By Jennifer Palmer
OKLAHOMA CITY — Twenty-three years after testifying against his "favorite cousin" in the killing of an Oklahoma City police officer, a key witness has recanted his testimony in the 1990 murder conviction of Alvin Parker.
A sworn statement in which Parker's cousin, Glenn Briggs, said Parker was not involved in the officer's death prompted the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to rule that Parker can seek a new trial. Two previous requests to a federal court for a new trial were denied. The latest was filed Monday in federal court in Oklahoma City.
Parker, 55, is serving a 199-year sentence for second-degree murder in the shooting death of off-duty officer Gary Lee Ward. Ward, an Oklahoma City police detective, was shot while trying to stop a thief fleeing with a stolen motel television on Feb. 2, 1985.
In a sworn statement made May 13, Briggs said he lied about Parker committing the killing.
Briggs said he was scared when police told him he was being booked for the murder, and didn't know the last name or address of the real killer, who he knew as "Thaddeus" or "Theddeus." So he told police Parker did it.
Briggs said he's coming forward now because he doesn't want to take the truth to his grave, according to the statement.
"Alvin was my favorite cousin, and I'm sorry I took him through this ordeal, but I didn't know he'd be locked up this long," the statement reads. "It's up to me to set things right and I pray he forgives me."
Parker was tried twice for Ward's death. Jurors at his first trial in 1986 found him guilty of first-degree murder and gave him a life sentence, but he received a new trial after a witness' reliability was questioned and prosecutorial misconduct was alleged.
At the retrial, Parker was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 199 years. He is incarcerated at the Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy.
He has appealed his conviction numerous times. In 2001, the FBI discovered forensic chemist Joyce Gilchrist incorrectly matched Parker's hair with hair on clothing from the victim. Gilchrist was fired after it was determined she made faulty analysis and gave false testimony in some cases. But Parker wasn't given a new trial.
In his statement, Briggs said he thought his cousin would be freed after Gilchrist's misconduct came to light.
"When the FBI said the hair didn't match his and could not have come from him, I thought he'd surely be released and I'd be freed from my mischief. But not even that freed Alvin," he stated.
Gloyd McCoy, a former attorney who once represented Parker, said in light of the new evidence, Parker deserves a new trial.
"We should always look into whether somebody lied. The entire justice system is based on truthful testimony," said McCoy, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and is no longer practicing law. He was suspended in 2010.
In the ruling, the appeals court justices said because it appears Briggs' testimony was crucial to convicting Parker, the allegations of perjury warrant further exploration by the district court.
Briggs was the key prosecution witness in the 1990 trial. He was originally charged with murder, but the charge was reduced to grand larceny in exchange for his testimony. He was sentenced to five years.
Attempts to reach Briggs by phone were unsuccessful.
Martha Ward, the victim's widow, said she hadn't heard of Briggs' statement recanting his testimony. If Parker is given a new trial, she said she'll attend even if it's painful to dredge up old memories.
"God didn't promise us a rose garden here," said Ward, 71. "And so what you have to do, you have to do."
Their daughter, Terri Ward, followed her father into law enforcement and is a secretary for the Oklahoma City Police Department's Will Rogers Patrol Division.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 The Oklahoman