Denver Mitchell

Greene County, Arkansas
Date of Crime:  August 18, 1990

Denver Wayne Mitchell, Jr. was convicted of murder for fending off a sexual solicitation.  In Aug. 1990, while working in Amarillo, TX, Mitchell received a letter from his father asking him to come home to West Frankfort, IL.  On Aug. 17, Mitchell hitched a ride near Amarillo in a truck driven by a 74-year-old man named Willard.  The two made it to Paragould, AR where they stopped for the night.  Willard told Mitchell he could spend the night in the truck and that he, Willard, would take him to Highway 55 in the morning.  The two also stopped at a bar, drank alcohol, and purchased some beer to go.  Willard then drove the truck to an area where they could camp out.

After the two had been drinking awhile, Willard began to masturbate and approached Mitchell in a sexual manner.  Mitchell refused his offer and pushed him into the bed of the truck.  Angry at being pushed, Mitchell alleged Willard grabbed a tire iron and took a swing at him.  Mitchell blocked the blow and defended himself by striking Willard.  He hit him with his fist and his hands, and kicked out at him after the falling Willard grabbed onto his legs.  Willard appeared to be unconscious and had a bloody nose, but Mitchell could tell he was breathing.  Being drunk, Mitchell made a foolish and impulsive mistake, and drove off in Willard's truck.  He drove to West Frankfort, IL, arriving there in the early morning hours of Aug. 18.

Mitchell stopped at his cousin's house, told him what happened, and his cousin helped him hide the truck.  He then went to his father's house where his brother's birthday was being held.  Throughout the day and into the night, Mitchell was seen by family, friends and neighbors.  About a week later, police found the truck and Mitchell learned that Willard was in a coma.  Mitchell felt bad about leaving Willard alone, but he felt certain at the time that he had just knocked him out.

What he did not know was that Willard apparently had recovered just fine after being knocked out but was severely beaten and robbed the next day.  At about 9 p.m. on the day after Mitchell left Willard, two Paragould boys, ages 13 and 15, told police that they had seen a biker dragging a dead woman's body across some train tracks near North Sixth St.  The police, while suspicious of the boys' story, searched the area, but found no evidence of a biker or a dead woman.  The next morning they brought a dog in to search the area and found a severely beaten and unconscious man among the tall weeds.  He had no identification on him and his pants were unzipped.

Police re-interviewed the 13-year-old, Delmer Lee Ward.  Ward, at first, stuck to the tale of the biker with the dead body.  However, he subsequently said this tale was a planned cover story.  Ward said that he and the 15-year-old, James Edward Rogers, had been walking along the train trestle when Rogers went down below the trestle to use the bathroom.  While below, Rogers was confronted by a man who wanted Rogers to “suck his dick.”  Ward said he saw Rogers hit the man at least twice, but later on in his statement he said Rogers beat the heck out of the man.  When Rogers was re-interviewed, he told the same story as Ward, adding that he hit the man twice with a rock.

Both boys had been interviewed with their parents present, confirming that they were not coerced into saying anything involuntarily.  They also were given lie detector tests and passed with flying colors.  Several days after the boys' confessions, the severely beaten man, labeled “John Doe,” died from head injuries.  Rogers was then charged with capital murder in the death of “John Doe.”  Rogers father, a retired policeman, was then allowed to bond his son out of jail on a signature bond requiring no money.  This was not only unusual, it was illegal, as capital murder in Arkansas is not a bailable offense.  Ward's father later brought his son in to police where he provided more details regarding the violent nature of Rogers' assault.  Ward stated that Rogers had robbed the then unconscious victim of a lot of money and described the victim's wallet.  Four years previously, Rogers had shot his own cousin, 8-year-old Nathan Scudder, with a .22 caliber rifle.  Scudder lost a kidney and half of a leg as a result of the shooting.

During Rogers' arrest, police took several items from him.  One of them was a wallet belonging to the victim.  It identified him as Willard Williamson.  Days after Willard's death, his daughter was contacted.  She came to the police station with her husband and identified the wallet by description and contents.  They were told the wallet would be used as evidence to convict Rogers.

In July 1991, nearly a year after Willard's death, Mitchell's cousin was in jail in Illinois awaiting drug and shooting charges.  He decided to tell a lie in an attempt to get a lighter charge.  He told police that Mitchell had told him that he killed a guy.  Afterwards, he amended his statement to say that Mitchell had only beaten the guy up.  At the time, neither Mitchell nor his cousin knew anything about Rogers' involvement in Willard's murder.

Mitchell was brought to Arkansas to stand trial for the capital murder of Willard.  At the time he was 22-years-old and had no previous criminal record.  At his first hearing, the lady sitting behind him asked if he was the Denver Mitchell charged with killing Willard Williamson.  Mitchell felt somewhat ashamed at speaking to her because he found out she was Willard's daughter.  Mitchell had assumed that he was responsible for Willard's death.  The daughter told him, however, that she knew he was not responsible for her father's death.  She then related the whole story of how Rogers, a policeman's son, had killed her father and said that he, Mitchell, was being used as a scapegoat to save Rogers' skin.

At Mitchell's trial, his public defender put Rogers and Ward on the stand just long enough to retract their earlier confessions, without mentioning the contents.  The boys said they were coerced by police into confessing.  It was not brought up that the boys' parents were present for their interrogations and confessions, negating any likelihood of coercion.

A bar owner, Dan Langston, who was a former policeman, gave testimony that is provably perjured when compared to his prior statements in police reports.  Mitchell's appointed defender made many errors that seemed purposeful in keeping exculpatory evidence out of his trial.  Because of these errors, Willard's daughter and her husband were not allowed to testify about identifying Willard's wallet after it was given to police by Rogers.  Also, Mitchell's father was not allowed to testify that Mitchell was in Illinois on the day of Willard's assault and that many others could confirm this fact.  Mitchell was given a life sentence, which in Arkansas reportedly means “life.”  In Aug. 2008, the Arkansas Parole board recommended for the fifth time that the state commute Mitchell's sentence, making him eligible for parole.  [9/08]

Reference:  Justice: Denied

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Arkansas Cases