A South Carolina man has been freed after serving 39 years in prison for a homicide police have determined he did not commit.
James Robert McClurkin was sentenced to life in prison in 1977 for the murder of car wash clerk Claude Killian, according to The Herald of Rock Hill. The only evidence against McClurkin was the testimony of the now-deceased Melvin “Smokey” Harris, a trusted police snitch and convicted murderer and burglar.
According to police records, officials knew that it was actually Harris himself that was responsible for the murder of Killian. The Herald shows evidence of a signed arrest warrant against Harris for the murder of "Claude Tresvan Killian with a gun during an armed robbery."
But, Harris was never prosecuted and instead put the blame of the Killian murder on McClurkin and another man, Ray Charles Degraffenreid, two of his life-long friends. Police subsequently freed Harris from custody, allowing him to kill others, which he did again in 1992 during an armed robbery of a liquor store. Meanwhile McClurkin and Deggraffenreid have served time for a crime they didn't commit. Both have maintained their innocence for 39 years.
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Harris, finally arrested for the 1992 murder, admitted that he had lied under oath in the 1997 trial and that McClurkin and Deggraffenreid were not responsible for the homicide. But, a judge ruled in 1993 that Harris was not credible because he changed his story three separate times. The Killian case would remained unopened and two innocent men would continue to serve time for another 23 years.
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood re-opened the case months ago after finding discrepancies in the original 1973 investigation. McClurkin and Deggraffenreid reportedly had alibis and witnesses that showed that they were not at the crime scene. Although this evidence could have exonerated them, it was not used during the trial.
Degraffenreid is in the psychiatric ward of a prison awaiting a parole date, according to the Herald. But McClurkin received parole on Oct. 11. After undergoing a series of trainings getting him ready for a reality that is vastly different than the one he was accustomed to in 1977, he was released Nov. 17.
"I am free," said McClurkin through tears to the Herald. "It is great. Just breathing this here [air] is great."
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Parole still means that McClurkin is still convicted for the Killian murder. He and his lawyer are seeking complete exoneration.
"I have been trying for 39 years ... to get someone, anybody, to believe me," said McClurkin. "I am out now, paroled. I am a free man. But that is not the end. I am still convicted. I want to be exonerated. I did not kill Claude Killian."