The Darryl Burton Story
In June 1984, Darryl Burton was just in his early twenties and had grown up in the inner city of St. Louis. He was from a large family of 8 brothers and sisters. Although Darryl had not been in serious trouble, the St. Louis Police Department knew who he was.
Not far from where Darryl had grown up, in that month and year, Donald “Moe” Ball – a notorious pimp – was gunned down and murdered in the parking lot of the local Amoco station while filling up his green Oldsmobile Regency 98. He’d been shot before in 1983 by another well-known character in the neighborhood, Jesse Watson, but wasn’t killed. Police never investigated Watson as a suspect in the homicide.
But based on a “tip” from a wino and well-known snitch, Eddie Walker – a “friend” of St. Louis Police to whom St. Louis Police officers paid money and provided liquor in return for “information” on a regular basis – and another man named Claudex Simmons, who said he saw Burton commit the murder of Ball, Darryl Burton was arrested for the murder of Donald Ball. But no physical evidence of any kind connected Burton to the homicide. He pleaded not guilty and was appointed a public defender in St. Louis. The public defender visited Darryl in jail only once before trial in St. Louis, a trial that lasted only 3 days. The verdict: Guilty. The jury deliberated only thirty minutes. The sentence: Life without parole.
Darryl had professed his innocence from the very first day of his arrest. It mystified him that he was even a suspect, let alone later convicted of murdering Ball. And now, he was locked up in prison for the rest of his life.
THE JOURNEY TO FREEDOM IS A LONG ONE
Darryl began writing when he first went to prison, writing to judges, lawyers, congressmen and senators, anyone whom he thought might listen and might help him. He also wrote to the Centurion Ministries, a group he’d heard of whose mission is to “vindicate and free from prison those individuals . . . who are factually innocent of the crimes for which they have been unjustly convicted and imprisoned for life or death.” Based in New Jersey, a representative of Centurion Ministries wrote Darryl back and told him it would be years, perhaps decades, before they could even look at his case. He wrote them every year thereafter, begging for their help, pleading his case and demanding that justice be done.
Finally, more than ten years after first writing them, Centurion Ministries took on his case. It would be another ten years before Darryl was released from prison in 2008. And here is just a part of what new evidence Centurion Ministries uncovered along with the leadership and work of local lawyer, Cheryl Pilate – some of it intentionally withheld from the prosecutor in 1984 and 1985 – and secured Darryl’s release from prison on August 29, 2008, when 24 years of wrongful imprisonment finally ended:
- Police never investigated the prime suspect, Jesse Watson, who had tried to kill Donald Ball the year before but didn’t get the job done. It was said that Watson and Ball had a “turf war” between them for years.
- Claudex Simmons wrote a letter and signed an affidavit – on his own accord – stating that he had perjured himself at the criminal trial with guidance from law enforcement officers as to what he needed to say. Police had lied about the extent of Simmons’ criminal record, which was wiped nearly clean in return for his testimony against Burton. Simmons avoided years of incarceration by testifying falsely against Burton.
- The cashier at the Amoco station, Joan Williams saw the shooter and described him as a short African American man with a “low haircut” and a light complexion, but police did not report her statement that way. Darryl Burton is 5’ 10” tall, had a jheri-curl (made famous by Lionel Richey, Michael Jackson and Rick James) and is a very, very dark-skinned black man. The cashier even told police when she saw a picture of Darryl Burton that they had “the wrong man” because his skin was too dark, but police never disclosed that information to prosecutors before the criminal trial.
In 2007, a hearing on this and other new evidence was held and by August 2008, Darryl Burton’s conviction was reversed and charges against him were dropped. It took Centurion Ministries and Cheryl Pilate 8 years to prove Darryl’s innocence and 24 years of Darryl’s life were consumed by his wrongful conviction for a crime he didn’t commit.
THE LIFELONG RELATIONSHIP
Brian McCallister and his family have become Darryl Burton’s family. “My wife, Valerie and I consider Brian, Kyle, Mitch and Jillian as our family. They have opened their house to us, I know their children’s friends and have given speeches at their schools. Brian cares deeply about us,” said Darryl Burton about his relationship with Brian McCallister.
“Brian and I talk every week, not just about the lawsuit he is handling, but about life, about my ministries, about my seminary work at St. Paul’s Theological Seminary where I am studying to become a minister, about politics, about religion. He is my brother.”