“I always thought that if you went to trial in the United States of America, and you told the truth, the truth would come out,” said Randal Padgett, of Alabama. “I found out that’s not the way it works.”
Padgett spent more than five years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit, the murder of his wife. Since winning an appeal and winning his freedom in 1997, Padgett has been working with the organization Witness To Innocence to tell his story of a little seen side of the justice system.
“I’d like for them to know that wrongful convictions do happen and it’s easy as pie,” he said. “It can happen to anybody.”
On Wednesday evening, Padgett will tell his story to the audience at Deer Park United Methodist Church, at 2205 Sykesville Road in Smallwood. Those interested are asked to register online at www.dpumc.net, just so the church can get an accurate headcount, but no one will be turned away from the 7 p.m. talk, according to church member David Bennett.
Padgett’s talk is part of a speaker series the church has been hosting for about a year and a half, according to Bennett, with past speakers such as a U.S. attorney addressing gangs and violence in the area, and the Carroll County Health Department presenting on the dangers of heroin.
Padgett’s message was interesting, Bennett said, because it was different from the message of how people can protect themselves from criminal elements.
“There seems to be plenty of talks on how to protect yourself, we see that often come up,” Bennett said. “It’s been the interest of a couple of people at our church and of mine. I just was interested in bringing someone in to tell their story and their side of it. He has an interesting story to tell.”
Padgett’s story begins in 1990.
“I had never been arrested in my life, never been in trouble with the law,” Padgett said. And then, “My wife got murdered.”
She had been stabbed numerous times and sexually assaulted, but knowing his innocence, Padgett refused to plead guilty, despite the prosecution claiming they had a DNA test tying Padgett’s blood to the crime scene.
“DNA was brand spanking new back in 1990,” he said. “Before trial I kept telling my lawyer, something is going to be wrong with this stinking test, because it wasn’t me.”
Padgett’s defense team got an independent DNA analysis that showed he was not associated with the crime, but the jury didn’t buy it.
“On the last day of the trial, the trial lasted about two weeks, we found out the state had retested my blood and came up with the same reading we had, and they hid that information from us,” Padgett said. “We asked for a mistrial, the judge didn’t grant it.”
And yet it was that prosecutorial misconduct that ultimately won Padgett his freedom upon his appeal — after five and a half years in prison.
“That’s why I won my appeal: They hid the results of that test,” he said. “Had they not done that, I would probably be dead now.”
Before this arrest, Padgett had a job and owned a home. When he was released from prison at age 47, cleared of any wrongdoing, he had lost half a decade of his life and didn’t have a penny to his name. He’s been struggling ever since.
Part of what motivated Padgett now, is helping other people understand what it cost him so much to learn.
“What I try to tell people is, I wasn’t no criminal. What happened to me could very easily happen to someone else,” he said. “You could die for something you didn’t do.”