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Profiling and My March 1984 Vindication - 33 Years Ago

Lenell Geter
Monday, March 27, 2017
Newsletter Archive

My Texas Nightmare ended 33 years ago, in March 1984, when God vindicated me. I am proclaiming "I want to give all praises to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!" I prepared this story for another source, and I thought that you would appreciate it - Note, I did not write the story in the first person.

Earning $24,000-a-year in 1982, Lenell Geter was a recent college graduate from South Carolina when he accepted employment with a Texas corporation, along with five other graduates. They were young black men recruited as engineers, one an analyst, and all were graduates of South Carolina State University ("State") in Orangeburg, South Carolina. They accepted employment at E-Systems in Greenville, Texas ("Greenville"). Almost immediately after their arrival, Greenville Police Department ("PD") profiled all six men. In less than one year, all six would be under the cloud of suspicion. Two would become unjustly involved in the criminal justice system, but later cleared. Lenell Geter would be wrongfully arrested in August 1982, convicted, sentence to life in prison - vindicated in March 1984 after serving nearly eighteen months of imprisonment.

As a condition of employment at E-Systems, all employees were required to pass a criminal background check to obtain a security clearance. Geter and the other State graduates had no criminal record.

Seeking leads from the public for the robbery of a local restaurant, Greenville PD ran an ad in the local newspaper. The ad provided no description of the robber or whether or not a car was used during the crime. An elderly woman who lived five miles from the restaurant had placed a telephone call in response to the ad to the Greenville PD. She reported a suspicious "colored man" at the city park and his car with out of state license tags parked near her house.

Geter went to the city park on Sundays to read, meditate and feed the ducks. However, there was no evidence connecting Geter to the robbery of the restaurant. In fact, an E-Systems' employee was a customer at the restaurant and saw the robber during the commission of the armed robbery. She knew Geter from work, and asserted that he was not the robber. Consequently, Greenville PD began offering Geter's photo to law enforcement units near the Dallas area.

Eventually, Geter was arrested for the $615 armed robbery of the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Balch Springs, Texas, near Dallas. Geter hired an attorney; however, he quit following a disagreement with Geter's parents. Accordingly, the court provided a court appointed attorney. After declaring his innocence for nearly two months while still in jail, Geter was astonished to learn that he was going to be tried by a jury.

Geter and nine of his co-workers provided testimony that he was at work over 50 miles away during the time of the Balch Springs robbery. The five eyewitnesses to the crime contradicted one another's testimonies about Geter's height, hairstyle and clothing. Though none of the Balch Springs robbery eyewitnesses were injured, the prosecutors told an all-white jury that they believed that Geter had committed other robberies, as well, and should be found guilty and given a life sentence. The jury convicted Geter and sentenced him to life in prison.

After he had begun to serve time, his family and friends took his case to the NAACP for legal assistance. In December of 1983, CBS 60 Minutes' aired "Lenell Geter's in Jail". The 60 Minutes' broadcast created an outcry of justice for Lenell Geter. The segment exposed viewers to flaws in the eyewitnesses' identifications, shoddy police work and a number of serious prosecution errors and omissions. Many people learned about Geter's case from media accounts and millions had come to characterized his case as a miscarriage of justice.

Shortly after the 60 Minutes airing, The Dallas County Prosecutor's Office agreed to release Geter from prison pending a new trial. The NAACP's investigation uncovered new witnesses, who were not known by the defense during his trial. The defense learned after his trial that the police and the prosecutors knew about the new eyewitnesses' and their testimonies but withheld the exculpatory evidence, favorable to the defendant, when they improperly informed them that their testimonies were not needed.

Moreover, after the 60 Minutes' airing, a potential suspect to the Geter's case was already in jail, for an unrelated case. He had watched the segment on television and had confessed to a friend during a telephone call that he had committed the crime that got Geter convicted. She informed the police about his confession. The prosecutors placed the individual in a live line-up where four of the five eyewitnesses to the Balch Springs case identified that person as the culprit. The fifth eyewitness identified another individual in the same line-up. Geter went before the judge who released him based on the newly discovered evidence of his innocence, in March 1984.

Geter has appeared as a guest on CBS, NBC and ABC television networks. He has been written about in "People Magazine", "Lawyer Magazine", "Texas Monthly", "Jet Magazine" and scores of newspapers. He has also appeared on ABC's "Nightline with Ted Koppel" and the NBC "Today Show". On February 3, 1987, CBS aired "Guilty of Innocence: The Lenell Geter Story", a major motion picture for television depicting the circumstances that led to his wrongful incarceration and his personal victory... a victory worn out of faith, determination and the strength of his principles of life.

Today, Geter is an author and professional development coach. He and his family reside in South Carolina, where he serves as a deacon at the church where he attends.