Norman Transcript

July 20, 2012
Man exonerated of 1995 crime, ready to rebuild life

Mike Smith The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Sedrick Courtney spent 16 years in prison knowing he did not commit the crime that put that put him there.

Faith kept him going.

“I knew that God knew the truth, so I didn’t worry about it,” Courtney, who now lives in Comanche, said Thursday after a Tulsa County judge exonerated him from his 1996 conviction of burglary and robbery after DNA testing excluded him from the crime in Tulsa.

Courtney was paroled last year and four months ago married Tina Benedict of Comanche, where the couple lives.

But he still had a felony on his record and parole obligations to meet.

Not anymore.

Tina Courtney, who works in Duncan, said she didn’t even tell any co-workers or others about the conviction — and her husband’s innocence — because nobody would have believed her.

“He still had to check in with probation and take time off work,” she said. “It’s been difficult. No more of that. That is done and hopefully we can move on. He just wants a normal life.”
Sedrick Courtney
Sedrick Courtney
A Tulsa jury convicted Courtney in the burglary and robbery of Shemita Greer, who was home in Tulsa on April 6, 1995, when two men wearing ski masks kicked in her apartment door and attacked her at gunpoint.

Greer was robbed of nearly $400 in cash and was severely beaten, according to attorneys for the Innocence Project in New York, who led the fight for Courtney’s exoneration. Courtney was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Greer told detectives that she recognized the taller of the two men as Courtney because of his voice and a brief instance when he lifted a ski mask.

The other assailant was never identified, and two months later Courtney was arrested. The state performed DNA testing available at the time on hairs that were found on the ski masks, but results were inconclusive, according to the Innocence Project.

 A Tulsa police forensic technician conducted a hair analysis and found that the hairs from a black ski mask were too short to do a comparison with Courtney’s hair samples.

But the technician claimed that an unusual, single bleached red hair recovered from a ski mask was similar to a bleached hair taken from Courtney’s head.

Courtney maintained his innocence and presented three alibi witnesses at trial, but he was convicted in February 1996.

Courtney’s previous attorneys sought further DNA testing after the conviction, but were told by Tulsa Police that evidence had been destroyed. The Innocence Project got involved in the case in 2007 and lawyers also were told evidence had been destroyed.

Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said the “destroyed evidence” was found in a file at the Tulsa courthouse last year, and DNA tests confirmed that none of the recovered hairs matched Courtney’s.

Scheck, who attended the Thursday court hearing in which Courtney was exonerated, said when the evidence was found, the Tulsa District Attorney’s Office consented to new DNA testing and did not dispute the results.

Scheck said Oklahoma is the only state that does not have a law that would automatically allow post-conviction DNA testing without the consent of prosecutors.

“Hopefully this terrible miscarriage of justice will spur state lawmakers to do the right thing and make it easier for those who have been wrongly convicted to get access to DNA testing that can clear their names,” Scheck said.

Scheck also said Oklahoma law limits damages for wrongful imprisonment at $175,000.

“That is not enough money,” he said.

After Thursday’s hearing, Courtney, family members from Tulsa and his wife celebrated at a Tulsa restaurant.

“I am obviously overjoyed,” Courtney said by phone from Tulsa.

Tina Courtney, 27, who is dietary manager for Country Club Care in Duncan, said she met Sedrick Courtney through a friend after he was paroled. They were married in March and live together in Comanche with Tina’s 2-year-old son, Elijah, from a previous relationship.

Tina said her husband works for the Family Dollar distribution center in Duncan, and they were grateful for that. But she said it has been tough for her husband, who kept faith in prison.

“He is not extremely religious, but he and his God are very close and he felt God put him there for a reason, and he was able to help people in prison,” Tina said. “Now he has adopted him (Elijah) as his own and he has been the most amazing father.”

Tina’s mother, Brenda Benedict, who lives near Waurika Lake, said she knew from the time she met Courtney that he was innocent. Benedict has worked at Halliburton in Duncan for years, and her husband, Larry, retired from there after 39 years.

“I knew he was innocent,” Benedict said. “You could just tell.”

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