"Truth never damages a cause that is just."
It was the 30th of August 1981. A Sunday. 9am. A woman, checking on her livestock in Navarro County, Texas, United States, made a horrifying discovery. On a dirt road off of Highway 22, just over two miles from the City of Corsicana, she found the body of a young woman. She had been brutally murdered.
The body was identified as that of Carolyn Armstrong. She had just turned twenty one five days earlier. Carolyn spent that weekend visiting her mother in Blooming Grove. After that, she was seen on West Seventh Avenue driving her 1978 green Ford Thunderbird car and a clerk, Nelda Lanier, saw her the night before her body was found at 10.30 pm at the Seven-Eleven store where Nelda worked which was located on Second Avenue in Corsicana.
Carolyn worked in a dress shop in Dallas and police did not know who would target the young woman in such a brutal manner.
Carolyn's abandoned car was found with the keys in the ignition three miles from where her body was found. A black hair net and partially smoked joint were also found in the car. The black hair net was on the left side of the driver's side.
Carolyn had been raped and stabbed multiple times. There were more than forty stab wounds all over her body. When she was found, she was naked from the waist down.
Carolyn's case remained unsolved for two years. It went cold. That was until an inmate began talking. Bennie Lamas was incarcerated for an armed robbery and told police that Randolph Arledge, who was also incarcerated for the same armed robbery, told him that he killed a girl in Corsicana.
Randolph was questioned by police and later charged with Carolyn's murder. At the time of Carolyn's murder, he was in Corsicana visiting his family. He left Corsicana the day after Carolyn's murder to head home to Houston. On the 8th of September, he met up with Bennie Lamas and Paula Lucas.
The three of them left Houston in a stolen van and they were arrested in Tennessee in connection with an armed robbery and sent to prison in Tennessee. When in prison awaiting sentencing, Bennie began to talk.
As part of a plea deal, Bennie and Paula agreed to testify against Randolph at his murder Trial. According to Bennie, when he met up with Randolph in Houston on the 8th of September, he told him he had stabbed a girl in Corsicana and he showed him the knife he used.
Randolph went on Trial in March 1984. It was the Prosecution's case that he murdered Carol and they relied on the testimony of Bennie and Paula and in particular, two eyewitness accounts from the night of the murder.
Vickie Jernigan and James Buchanan testified that on the evening of August 29th, Randolph was at a party at Vickie's house until around 9pm or 10pm. James Gunter testified he saw Randolph driving a car at 11pm in Gibson's parking lot in Corsicana.
James Buchanan testified that on August 30th between 2.30 am to 3 am, Randolph returned to Vickie's house with blood on his shirt.There was a bite mark over his eye and an open bloody knife in his back pocket. James said that he "looked like he had been in a fight." James asked Randolph what was wrong and he said "I don't know , man. I can't remember."
The Jury were shown Randolph's knife which was a single edge hunting knife . The Pathologist, Dr Nina Hollander, testified that the knife that Randolph had was consistent with being able to inflict the wounds found on Carolyn's body.
Bennie testified that Randolph had confessed to him and Paula testified that Randolph had once threatened her. She said that he told her that he had killed a woman. Paula received probation for her part in the armed robbery in exchange for her testimony.
Randolph's Defense relied on alibi testimony. His two sisters and brother in law said that he was at Vickie's house throughout the entire night and he did not leave at all. His sister said he was at the party and then after that slept in the house that night. At the party, he had gotten into a number of fights.
There was no physical evidence that linked Randolph to the crime. Despite that, the Jury believed there was enough evidence to convict him based on the testimony of the Prosecution's witnesses. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to ninety nine years in prison.
In 2011, the Innocence Project, who were looking into Randolph's conviction, secured DNA testing of the physical evidence with the cooperation of the Navarro County District Attorney’s Office.
The hair that was found in the black hairnet in Carolyn's car was preserved for three decades and that was tested along with washings from Carolyn's pubic hairs. Every item of evidence excluded Randolph.
Randolph on the left
A CODIS DNA database search revealed a match to a different man, David Sims.
David said that he had nothing to do with Carolyn's murder. He said that at the time of Carolyn's murder he worked close to where her body was found and wore hairnets for work. He worked part time at a Long John Silver’s seafood restaurant at the time and finished around 10pm or 11pm at night. This was the same time that police believed Carolyn was abducted.
David already had a record of crimes committed. He pled “no contest” to the 1985 attempted murder of a Dallas woman who was stabbed over ninety times in 1996 and pled "no contest" to crimes relating to burglary, robbery and aggravated robbery.
Randolph was officially exonerated by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on the 3rd of May 2013.
Randolph spent more than thirty years in prison. Fourteen of those years were for a crime he did not commit. Randolph did not kill Carolyn. It is vital though that in cases where a person has been exonerated, the original case itself is not forgotten. Carolyn's family deserve to know the truth.
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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