How an Innocent Oklahoma Woman Spent 20 Years in Prison

Oklahoma prosecutor Tim Harris stood before jurors deciding Michelle Murphy’s fate and told them police found someone’s blood near her slain baby’s body, blood he implied could be hers.

What he didn’t tell jurors is that as the trial started in 1995, he had an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation report that said Murphy’s blood type was different than the type found at the scene. That test determined DNA found at the scene was not hers, contradicting Harris’ implication to jurors.

A Tulsa World investigation shows the state of Oklahoma relied on faulty blood analysis, the dubious testimony of a troubled 14-year-old neighbor and an unrecorded, incriminating statement to convict Murphy, who spent 20 years in prison. All three elements were so problematic they should have been challenged in court.

Jurors never heard other evidence that might have given them reasonable doubt about convicting Murphy. Harris maintains that the report didn’t exclude Murphy as the source of the unknown blood found at the scene, based on forensic science “at the time.”

Pete Messler, the former Tulsa County special district judge who presided over Murphy’s preliminary hearing, called her murder conviction “the biggest miscarriage of justice” in his 40-year legal career. “The bottom line is that in this whole trial, anybody who ever had anything to do with it, they were honorable — every one of them were honorable, good lawyers,” Messler said. “Some of them just made some big mistakes.”

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