Federal Judge Billy Roy Wilson has vacated the conviction and life sentence John Brown Jr. received in 1992 for the 1988 murder and rape of Myrtle Holmes, 78, of Fordyce. Work of the Midwest Innocence Project led to the decision. The judge gave the state 30 days to retry Brown or release him.

The Innocence Project recounts the case here.


Four people were convicted in the case. Brown’s original trial ended with a hung jury. In his second trial, DNA evidence that precluded Brown in the rape was omitted. A confession enticed by an  informant from a witness said to have the mental capacity of a seven-year-old was critical in the conviction of Brown. Said the Innocence Project:

The most conclusive proof of Brown’s innocence is a full confession by Reginald Early. In December of 2015, Early confessed in grisly detail to raping, robbing, and murdering Ms. Holmes alone. His confession is corroborated by physical and forensic evidence and emphasizes that Early did not know John Brown or spend time with him. Early testified at a federal habeas hearing for co-defendant Tina Jimerson in June 2016, where he again swore under oath that he was the sole perpetrator of the murder of Ms. Holmes.

The judge, whose opinion can be found at the Midwest Project link, found numerous constitutional violations and questionable law enforcement tactics. He also noted Brown’s trial lawyer had been ineffective and subsequently disbarred.


He concluded:

The State failed to disclose, concealed, and destroyed the most important exculpatory and
impeachment evidence in the case. The concealed evidence related to the State’s most critical evidence of guilt. There was little other reliable evidence of guilt. The constitutional violations in this case thoroughly undermine confidence in Mr. Brown’s conviction. There is a reasonable likelihood that the constitutional violations affected the judgment of the jury to the point the outcome would have been different. Mr. Brown has likely also shown that with Mr. Early’s confession and the new eyewitness testimony, no reasonable juror would have found Mr. Brown guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.