The Revelle Case
George Revelle had it all. He lived in a beautiful $500,000 house, with a Mercedes car in the garage, set on a golf course, with his lovely wife and two great kids. He was the mayor of the town and a successful banker and an active member of the local Catholic Church. His friends and relatives all saw him as a caring and loving husband and parent.
Then one night he noticed someone outside, a prowler, and he called the police. They couldn't find anyone and so nothing came of this. But the very next night his wife was murdered! Six months after the murder, George is arrested and charged with the crime.
His story is that he heard a beeping noise, he thought it was from the alarm system, and before he had a chance to react a masked man was in his bedroom with a 45 pistol pointing at his wife's head. The intruder called him "Banker George" and told him not to do anything stupid. But, then the gun went off, apparently accidentally, and the prowler fled. George called 911 to report that his wife had been shot. The police arrived; the ambulance took his wife to the hospital where she died.
His wife was a schoolteacher and they had been married for some 15 years.
Shortly before the murder, George had taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy on both himself and his wife with a double indemnity clause---if she died accidentally, he would collect $1,000,000. (The police later felt that the reason he indicated that the intruder had not meant to shoot his wife was in order to activate the double indemnity clause.) However, what really made the police think he was the real murderer was the discovery they made about his finances. He was embezzling money from his bank! The police felt sure that he killed his wife in order to pay back money he had been stealing before getting caught.
After being taken away from his mother by authorities, Revelle grew up in an orphanage before being adopted. He had no contact with his birth mother or his step-siblings. However, at the trial the defense made the argument that his step-brother is the one that planned the break-in to his home with the plan to extort money from him and that the plan went sour when they accidentally shot his wife. This scenario developed when a letter was sent to the police telling them that George was innocent and telling the location of the murder weapon at the bottom of a pond near where those relatives lived. The step-brother had died before the break-in but his partners decided to go ahead with the crime, which they allegedly bungled. The police found the gun where the letter stated; however, they felt that George is the one that wrote the letter and put the gun in the pond. Mind you, the police never were able to find a typewriter to match the typing on the letter and they thoroughly searched the Revelle home and surrounding area looking for the gun using every modern technique at their disposal. Also, the stamp on the envelope the letter arrived in was checked for DNA (when you lick a stamp, you leave saliva DNA behind) and it was not George's DNA. In short, facts did not count, only the prosecution's self-created story as to how the events unfolded counted.
A neighbor saw a suspicious truck in the neighborhood---perhaps the killers? Close friends all said it was a great marriage. However, the 911 phone call and his behavior at the hospital were used against George as his behavior did not seem to be that of a loving husband trying to save his wife. The prosecution painted a picture of a husband that was upset because his wife did not die immediately after he shot her in the head. At the hospital he did not go to see his wife. This was turned against him by the prosecution; however, the defense explained that his friends at the hospital urged him not to see her so that he would not be left with this type of horrific picture of her as his last memories of his beloved wife. As you can begin to see, the prosecution takes everything and tries to put a negative spin on it. They fabricate a story using what they know and what they think happened so that the story makes him look guilty. The focus is on conviction, not on the truth.
In searching the house the police found a letter from the wife to George. In the letter she complains about his anger and his fixation on possessions. The letter undermined his assertion that it was a perfect marriage. However, the defense position was that this was an old letter and that they resolved their disagreement and George said that he kept the letter as a way of reminding him to avoid the behavior his wife complained of because his family was more important to him that anything.
But both sides agreed that the most damning evidence was the burglar alarm system.
The story George told did not match the story the machine told. According to the recorded alarm system entries, it appeared that George was lying.
Remember now that despite the negatives, George has absolutely no history of violent behavior and no history of infidelity. However, all the positives that George could point to were undermined in large measure due to the embezzlement. If he could do one crime, then it was easier to see him as doing another. As in the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, it always helps the prosecution if they can first convict you on a lesser charge.
The letter from his dead wife saying negative things about the marriage, the embezzled money, the life insurance policy, his behavior toward his wife as recorded by the 911 call and as observed in the hospital, the events as recorded by the alarm system in his house, everything was framed by the prosecution to make him look bad and it worked. Although George took the stand in his own defense and had an explanation for everything, the jury didn't buy his version and on the second day of deliberating they voted GUILTY! At the penalty phase they voted for life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty. The jury decided against the death penalty mainly because they were sure beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty but they knew that you could not know for absolute certainty given that their were no witnesses.
George had a good defense lawyer which meant that the chances of appeal were somewhere between slim and none. However, even after his conviction, his family, including his wife's sister and parents, continue to believe in his innocence and even helped raise funds for his appeal.
A new lawyer now takes over the case and mounts a successful appeal. Mind you, years are going by with George in prison with his children being raised by relatives. The appeal court agrees that the letter the wife wrote should not have been allowed in because it was a violation of the hearsay rules. So a new trial begins. The first effort to have a new trial ends in a mistrial because the jurors violate rules. Then the third trial begins.
The new lawyer is younger, more thorough, and hires a jury selection consultant. He now doesn't have the letter to contend with so George looks better in the eyes of the jury. He gets an alarm system expert to testify that the alarm was not effectively installed and cannot be viewed as reliable evidence. He also discovers that evidence from the autopsy had been withheld during the first trial. Apparently a sheriff put his hand on the dead wife's breast and had a picture taken of this. That picture was hidden and the defense team noticed that the numbering of the negatives revealed some photos were missing so that the jury was presented with this information and it undermined the credibility of the police and tainted their investigation.
He also brought in a debt expert who testified that George's debt load was manageable in order to undermine the motive the prosecution was putting forth. Also, George's attorney argued that George lived for his family, the things he bought and everything he did was for his family. It was ridiculous to think that he would kill his beloved wife in order to hang on to material things that he had obtained for that wife. It was also ridiculous to think that way because anyone would know that if the wife died they would start looking around and discover the embezzlement. So the motive the prosecution presented didn't make good sense---however, to a jury, it still did make sense! Once you are tainted by being found guilty of one crime, the jury starts to see you in a negative light no matter what the facts are, no matter how "ridiculous" the prosecution case may be---if they see you in a negative light then the jury is very likely to twist events so that they fit the prosecution's case.
However, one of the most telling witnesses was the mother of the dead wife who went on the stand and testified in George's behalf. That helped George more than just about anything else presented to the jury. Also, this time around George did not take the stand in his own defense.
The jury this time voted NOT GUILTY. On their first ballot it was close with 7 for not guilty and 5 for guilty. But eventually they all agreed to the not guilty verdict despite the fact a significant number of them felt he was guilty but that the prosecution had not proven this beyond a reasonable doubt. Four years after his wife's murder George was a free man. (By the way, the insurance policy on his wife was paid out to the children.) George has started life over again with his children---but not as a banker.
(The above is from the Dateline television show aired on February 26, 2001---a special two-hour long show entitled: MURDER BEFORE DAWN.)
Assuming George is innocent, and given the details I think that that is a reasonable assumption, then the police should be out looking for the real killers and they already know the direction to look. The sad fact of life is that once the police and prosecutors feel that they have the person they feel is guilty, even if he is found not guilty, they tend to hang on to their story, their biases, and not go looking for anyone else.
The above television show aired on February 26, 2001. On February 28, 2001 I visited a client at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution outside Nashville, Tennessee. My client was being charged with killing the woman in his life, just as George Revelle had been charged. My client was innocent, just as George was. On the day I visited, three television stations were outside the prison to report on the impending electrocution of one of the prisoners at the prison, a fact that was on the minds of most of the prisoners. My client had watched the Dateline show from the other night and I asked him what he thought. He was convinced that George was guilty. When I carefully reviewed the evidence with him, he changed his mind. I mention this only as a way of saying how easy it is to implant an image of guilt in a persons mind, even the mind of a person who themselves were being framed, as was my client, for a murder. The defense team in these situations is almost always fighting an uphill battle, a battle of image rather than of substance.