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‘I Wish It Would’ve Happened Sooner’: Black Man Wrongly Convicted of Murdering White Man Gets Record Wiped Clean 73 Years Later

A Black Georgia man sentenced to death three times for a murder he did not commit is finally getting his record wiped clean.

Some 73 years after Clarence Henderson was wrongly convicted, his charges were dismissed.

“I wish it would’ve happened sooner,” Clarence Henderson’s great-grandson Brandon Henderson told WAGA this week.

Clarence Henderson’s life took a turn for the worse on Oct. 31, 1948, in Carroll County, Georgia, roughly 45 miles west of Atlanta.

According to court records, a white couple, Carl “Buddy” Stevens and Nan Turner were on a date that evening. While out, a masked man abducted them both and attempted to rape Turner. Stevens fought the masked man off so Turner could escape, but Stevens was shot amid the fray.

Turner reportedly told police the masked man “sounded like he was Black” without any detailed description. Police started searching for Black men they believed to be Stevens’ killer.

A year and a half later, the police search found its way to Clarence Henderson in Atlanta. Clarence was already known to police, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Chris Joyner, who has written a book on the case.

Police tried to pin the shooting on Clarence Henderson by claiming a .38 revolver found in a pawn shop belonged to him. Although the bullet used was from a 9mm automatic gun, police claimed Henderson “filed down” the bullet so it would fit the .38 revolver found in the pawn shop.

A screenshot from a Facebook live stream of Clarence Henderson’s murder charge being dismissed with family members speaking to a judge on March 2. (Photo: Facebook/WLBB)

Court records show Clarence Henderson was arrested in December 1949, and police found a “rusty file in his home” and claimed he used it to file bullets “prior to October 1948”.

“It had been reported as stolen and investigators believe they could put the gun in Clarence Henderson’s hands for a very narrow window that would have been enough to have committed the murder with it,” Joyner told GPB.   

Clarence Henderson was a sharecropper and had no known connection to Stevens.

“It’s hard to imagine a Black man moving through white Carrollton in lovers’ lanes areas unnoticed. Nonetheless, he was the suspect they came up with,” Joyner said.

At the trial, despite Henderson’s alibi, he was home with his wife, an all-white jury found him guilty. He was sentenced to death.

“He had his first trial for one day. He was convicted in one day,” Brandon Henderson said.

Civil rights activists helped Henderson with his appeal, and the Georgia Supreme Court overturned his conviction due to lack of evidence.

During his second trial, Henderson was convicted again and sentenced to death. However, the Georgia Supreme Court again overturned his death sentence.

“All the evidence showed he didn’t do it. Again, and they still convicted him,” Brandon Henderson said.

After a third trial, conviction and another death sentence, Henderson would again prevail on appeal. After that, his case remained on the dead docket, where a prosecutor postpones a case indefinitely but does not dismiss it. Henderson was never acquitted of the murder conviction.

Clarence Henderson died approximately 40 years ago and ultimately spent five years behind bars.

Brandon Henderson grew up hearing stories of his great-grandfather, and as he got older, began advocating for the district attorney to have the record wiped clean.

“There’s no reason under the sun for anyone to have that shadow cast upon them or their family,” Henderson said.

After Joyner wrote his 2022 book on Henderson’s case, it came into the hands of Coweta County District Attorney John “Herb” Cranford Jr., who previously had never heard of the case.

On Jan. 6, the district attorney asked a judge to dismiss the murder charge against Clarence Henderson due to “insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and on grounds of double jeopardy.”

Cranford went on to say in the motion to dismiss, “the state did not have the evidence to preclude the possibility that someone other than Henderson committed the crime.”

The hearing was held on March 2 to officially dismiss the charge.

“He died with that. He died with those thoughts. He died with that shadow over his head. I wish he would have that day to where he was able to hear all charges have been dismissed and you’re free to go,” Brandon Henderson said of his late great-grandfather’s dismissed murder charge.

Another great-grandson of Henderson said at Thursday’s hearing the dismissed charges will never be vindication.

“This is closure for our family, but it will never be vindication because we can never get back what we have lost,” the unnamed great-grandson said at the hearing.

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