EASTON — More than three decades after burglars stabbed Adeline Wilford, 64, to death inside her home near Easton in 1987, the two men convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her murder will get a new trial based on new evidence.
The Maryland Court of Appeals issued the opinion Monday, April 27, in a document detailing the case’s misgivings and pointing to new findings through fingerprint identification technology that didn’t exist at the investigation’s onset.
On Jan. 5, 1987, Wilford was found dead inside her home with multiple stab wounds to her face and hands. Upon investigation, police discovered Wilford’s home had been “ransacked,” and her purse, wallet and some of her jewelry were missing.
David Faulkner, now 55, and Jonathan Smith, now 50, stood trial for her murder. The two men have been imprisoned for nearly 20 years since a jury found them guilty in 2001 of the first- and second-degree murder and burglary charges against them in Wilford’s death.
Their convictions were based heavily on the accounts of two witnesses: then 16-year-old Ray Andrews, who also was involved in the burglary and took a plea deal to testify against Faulkner and Smith for a shorter sentence, and Beverly Haddaway, whose account surfaced 13 years after the incident and was considered at the request of Wilford’s son, Charles Wilford.
Charles Wilford offered a reward of $10,000 for information leading to an arrest in the case and $15,000 if a conviction of the perpetrator(s) followed the arrest.
Haddaway, who was Smith’s aunt, came forward and told police she saw the three men, one of them covered with blood, walking together out of a cornfield near Wilford’s home the afternoon of the murder.
Recorded police interviews with Haddaway, which prosecutors kept secret during the trial and until their public release in 2012, revealed she testified against the two men in exchange for the dismissal of drug charges against her grandson.
Haddaway also played a role in getting Smith to confess his involvement in the burglary. In 2000, she wore a wire to secretly record a conversation with him during which she asked him whether he was involved in the incident.
According to a transcript of the talk filed in court records, Smith said he helped burglarize Wilford’s home because he “knew she had money.” He never explicitly told Haddaway “I did it,” though he responded “uh huh” and answered her questions with affirmations of his involvement, claiming he got $60,000 out of the burglary.
Smith reportedly later said during interviews with police that he admitted his involvement in Wilford’s murder to Haddaway because he wanted her to think he was “a tough person,” court documents stated. But he then confessed to police that he was there with Faulkner and that Faulkner stabbed Wilford when she returned home to find their burglary in progress.
Smith later contended, though, that he falsely confessed to the crime because police threatened him with lethal injection and said he “would never see his family again” if he didn’t confess.
But prosecutors had no physical evidence linking Andrews, Faulkner or Smith to the crime scene, and there were unidentified palm prints outside and inside the home that did not belong to any of the three men.
Nearly 30 years after Wilford’s death, police identified the palm prints as belonging to Ty Brooks, a man who was on investigators’ suspect radar after a confidential informant told police Brooks confessed to the crime.
Brooks’ prints weren’t checked to determine whether they matched those found around Wilford’s home until 2013, at the request of Faulkner’s and Smith’s new attorneys, according to court documents.
The two convicted men have filed several unsuccessful petitions for writs of actual innocence since 2013. But after seven years of petitioning, the Maryland Court of Appeals granted their requests.
The men and their legal teams argued that if those two pieces of evidence — the recorded witness interview and the prints identification — had been made available to the juries during their trials, the juries might have decided differently.
Faulkner and Smith’s cases will be sent back to the Talbot County Circuit Court with orders for new trials. The men are represented by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and the Innocence Project.
Susan Friedman, the Innocence Project attorney representing Smith, said in a statement the court’s decision to grant the petitions for new trials “demonstrates the strength of the new evidence.”
The judges who issued the opinion said while the evidence of an alternate perpetrator does not independently warrant the issuance of the writs of actual innocence, the recorded police interviews confirming that Haddaway was compensated for her testimony against the two men “cumulatively entitle Smith and Faulkner to relief.”