Cases Featuring

Known Career Informants

11 Cases

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AZ - Pima - Melvin B. Coley 1986 (Homer Payne)

CA - Los Angeles - Thomas Goldstein 1979 (Edward Fink)

CA - San Francisco - Ludrate Burton 1994 (Obie Jacobs)

CA - Santa Clara - Roy Lopez Garcia 1998 (Timothy Villalba)

LA - Union - Graham & Burrell 1986 (Olan Wayne Brantley)

MA - Suffolk - James Rodwell 1978 (David Nagle)

PA - Bucks - Michael Dirago 1985 (John Hall)

PA - Montgomery - Ernest Priovolos 1986 (John Hall)

PA - Philadelphia - Walter Ogrod 1988 (John Hall)

WA - Pierce - Gary Benn 1988 (Roy Patrick)

Ontario - Peter Frumusa 1988 (Frank Costello)




Date of Alleged Crime


Pima County, AZ Melvin B. Coley Mar 13, 1986
Melvin B. Coley was convicted of conspiracy to murder Carl Martin.  The conviction was due to the testimony of dubious informants who were not involved in Martin's murder.  A police informant, Homer Payne, placed Coley in the middle of the conspiracy because of an alleged phone conversation he had with him.  Payne has multiple felony convictions.  Payne kept a journal in which he portrayed Coley as a black militant terrorist and alleged Coley had ties to Libyan leader Khadafy and other militant leaders around the world.  At the end of Coley's trial, a judge sealed the journal apparently because it also implicated a U.S. Senator, a county judge, and countless Italian attorneys as participants in illegal activities.  A businessman who had given Payne a job upon his release from prison said Payne was “the most accomplished liar he had ever met.”  Coley has affidavits from the three acknowledged participants in Martin's murder that he had nothing to do with it.  (Source)  [11/07]


Los Angeles County, CA Thomas Lee Goldstein Nov 3, 1979 (Long Beach)
Thomas Lee Goldstein, an ex-Marine, was convicted of the shotgun murder of jogger John McGinest.  The conviction was based on eyewitness error, false informant testimony, and police influencing eyewitnesses.  Police were helped by a heroin-addicted informant with the unlikely name of Edward F. Fink who claimed Goldstein had confessed to him.  Fink made the same claim about ten other cellmates.  Prosecutors also hid a leniency deal that could have helped discredit Fink.  The Ninth Circuit Court overturned Goldstein's conviction in 2004 and ordered Goldstein's immediate release from custody.  L.A. County initially defied the order, by recharging Goldstein, but they subsequently dropped charges and released him from custody.  Goldstein served 24 years of a 27 years to life sentence.  (LA Times)  [12/05]


San Francisco County, CA Ludrate Burton Apr 21, 1994

Ludrate Burton was convicted of murdering 13-year-old Alexius McNeal, the daughter of his second cousin.  Burton had discovered her dead body, and because of his criminal history, he was a suspect from the start.  However, fingerprints lifted from the scene did not link him to the murder.  Burton had a liver ailment, weighed 120 lbs., and had difficulty getting up a flight of stairs.  The prosecution theorized that he struggled with the 5'9", 186 lbs. Alexius before murdering her.

While in prison, Burton had a known prison snitch, Obie Jacobs, assigned as his cellmate.  Jacobs had testified at other murder trials.  Burton complained to his lawyer, but his request for a different cellmate was denied.  Two months later, the cellmate was meeting with the police and telling them that Burton confessed to him using police supplied information.  Jacobs told them that Burton confessed that he killed McNeal between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., but the coroner had placed her time of her death between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.  (InjusticeBusters)  [10/05]


Santa Clara County, CA Roy Lopez Garcia Nov 19, 1998 (Morgan Hill)

Roy Lopez Garcia was convicted of the murder of mental health therapist Deborah Gregg.  Garcia had feuded with Gregg after he bought 250 acres of land adjoining her property and began to bulldoze the land.  The two were involved in civil disputes over their shared property boundary.  Gregg was found with two shotgun blasts to her head near the line separating their properties on Armsby Lane in Morgan Hill.  But there was a shortage of physical evidence pointing to Garcia, who has maintained his innocence. The guns in his home did not match the weapon used in the killing. There was no eyewitness, fingerprints, or DNA match.

Garcia was convicted after a prison informant, Timothy Flores Villalba, came forward and claimed he heard Garcia implicate himself in the crime. Villalba was serving a sentence for first-degree murder and defense attorneys argued he came forward after he was notified he could be eligible for parole as soon as 2003 if he improved his conduct.

Less than a year later, Villalba again came forward and stated that another inmate, Glen “Buddy” Nickerson, had confessed his involvement in the shooting murders for which he was convicted, just as the case against Nickerson was unraveling.  At a 2002 hearing, Villalba testified that Nickerson told him long ago that he instigated the shootout as revenge.  But U.S. District Judge Marilyn Patel found Villalba's testimony “entirely without credibility,” and overturned Nickerson's conviction.

Garcia's conviction was overturned in 2005 because the trial judge had permitted the jury to visit the crime scene without Garcia or his attorney being present.  At retrial Garcia was acquitted of Gregg's murder even though the prosecution again called Villalba as a witness.  (Tainted Trials)  (Mercury News)  [2/09]


Union Parish, LA Graham & Burrell Aug 31, 1986 (Downsville)
Michael Ray Graham, Jr. and Albert Ronnie Burrell were convicted of the robbery and murders of William Delton Frost, 65, and Callie Maude Frost, 60, at their home near Downsville.  Graham and Burrell were sentenced to death.  The two were arrested after Burrell's ex-wife, Janet, stated that she had seen Burrell with a rifle on the night of the murder and that he told her Graham had used it to shoot the couple.  Janet also said she saw Delton Frost's wallet with his social security card in Burrell's car.  However, police reports showed that Delton's wallet and social security card were found on his bed at the murder scene.  Following the arrests, Olan Wayne Brantley, a prison informant, claimed that Graham had confessed to him, and after Brantley was moved to Burrell's cell, he claimed that Burrell had confessed as well.  A law enforcement official acknowledged that Brantley was known as “Lying Wayne.”  In early 2000, 17 days before Burrell's scheduled execution, his ex-wife recanted her statement.  She said she had implicated him in an effort to gain an advantage in a child-custody dispute.  She had attempted to recant before the pair's trials, but she was threatened with loss of custody if she did.  Graham and Burrell were released on Dec 28, 2000 and Jan. 3, 2001.  (CWC) (JP) (JD15)  [1/06]


Suffolk County, MA James Rodwell Dec 3, 1978 (Somerville)

James Rodwell was convicted in 1981 of the murder of Louis Rose, Jr., a drug dealer and the son of a Burlington police captain. No physical evidence linked Rodwell to the crime. The case against him relied on two witnesses: (1) Frankie Holmes, an immunized witness who drove the victim to the murder scene and drove away after the murder. (2) David Nagel, a prison informant, who had the opportunity to confer with Holmes prior to trial, when the two were incarcerated together. Both witnesses faced multiple life felony convictions on various charges.

At trial, Holmes' testimony conflicted with earlier statements he had given to investigators and the grand jury. Both witnesses' testimonies were riddled with discrepancies, inconsistencies, and errors. Nagel was a career informant. He had been charged with 37 armed robberies in the 1970s, a number which grew to 59 by the mid-1980s. He managed to sidestep lengthy sentences by aiding the police with tips and testimony. In prison, Rodwell had to endure taunts by other inmates, taunts that usually ended with the refrain, “Another one that Nagel got.”

The prosecution withheld a police report on a witness who stated another person committed the crime. The prosecutor and the state police told the witness, “If you remember what you saw, you will be charged as an accessory.” (Website)  [2/08]


Bucks County, PA Michael Dirago Apr 16, 1985

Michael Dirago was convicted in 1991 of the 1985 murder of his 23-year-old girlfriend, Yvonne Davi.  Davi's body had been found near the Delaware River.  The conviction was secured by John Hall, a career prison informant and star witness who unexpectedly came forward just a few days before Dirago's then scheduled trial in Bucks County, PA.  Hall said Dirago told him about the crime when they were both in the Bucks County Jail.

Hall's testimony placed the murder on the New Jersey side of the bridge on which, he claimed, the victim had been killed.  Dirago was actually convicted in Burlington County, NJ, but only Hall's testimony places the murder there.  Hall gave a riveting account of the murder on the bridge, and of the victim gurgling as she died.  C. Theodore Fritsch, then the chief deputy DA of Bucks County, wrote that Hall's “unsolicited cooperation,” had changed the case from one with a “rather slim” chance of conviction to a “strong one from the prosecution standpoint.”  Howard Barman, then deputy attorney general of New Jersey wrote that Hall was “a remarkable person” who, but for an alcohol problem, “would probably be a significant member of society.”  (Google) (City Paper)  [3/08]


Montgomery County, PA Ernest Priovolos Oct 23, 1986

Ernest H. Priovolos was convicted in 1990 of the 1986 murder of his former neighbor and girlfriend, Cheryl Succa.  Succa, 21, was found dead with a broken neck under a stone bridge in the 2400 block of Washington Lane in Huntingdon Valley.  Police originally classified her death as an accident.  They said that in the dark she probably stumbled down the bank of the creek. She may not have seen the large rocks and she hit her head.  However, after a career prison informant named John Hall came forward, police ruled her death a homicide.  Hall is known to have provided testimony in an extraordinary number of cases.  In 1994-95 alone he snitched out defendants in 5 murder cases.

Hall shared a prison cell with Priovolos in Bucks County Prison who was there on a drug related charge.  Hall testified that Priovolos bragged to him in the fall of 1988 that he knocked Succa over the bridge with a karate chop and took her purse after becoming angry that she would not have sex with him. Edward Bauman, another inmate and a reported follower of Hall, corroborated Hall's testimony.  At trial, a prosecution witness caused a mistrial by testifying that Priovolos had sexually assaulted her in 1985.  No charges were ever filed for the alleged assault.  At his second trial, Priovolos was convicted of third-degree murder and sentenced to 12 to 27 years of imprisonment.  The prosecution had sought the death penalty. (Google) (See also Walter Ogrod (Phila 1988), Michael Dirago (Bucks 1985)) [6/08]


Philadelphia County, PA Walter Ogrod July 12, 1988

Walter Ogrod was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of four-year-old Barbara Jean Horn.  The murder occurred near her house at 7245 Rutland Street, close to Cottman Avenue.  Four witnesses had seen a man carrying a TV box in which Horn's body was found.  One of the witnesses, David Schectman, told police he'd interacted with the box carrying man for 11 minutes on St. Vincent St.

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Pierce County, WA Gary Benn Feb 10, 1988 (Puyallup)

Gary Michael Benn was sentenced to death for the shooting murders of his half-brother, Jack Dethlefsen, and his half-brother's friend, Michael Nelson.  The shootings occurred in Dethlefsen's house.  At trial Benn did not testify directly, but he made statements to a third party who testified to his version of events.  According to this version, the killings were in self-defense.  Benn's version was reasonably corroborated by the position of the bodies relative to the guns in the house.  The killings were presumably not premeditated as Benn did not use his own gun, but had left it in his car.  Dethlefsen had a reputation for violence.

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Ontario, Canada Peter Frumusa Aug 22, 1988 (Niagara Falls)

Peter Frumusa was convicted of murdering Richard and Annie Wilson, a married couple.  The victims were found dead in their beds and died as a result of blows to their heads.  No murder weapon was found.  There was no evidence of forced entry to their house, or of robbery or vandalism.  Since Richard's wallet and money were found close to his body, robbery appeared not to be a motive and the killings were thought to be executions.

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