On November 25. 1978 at approximately 9pm, Purple Martin Gas Station in Midland, Michigan was robbed and the Attendant, Jim Ryks was shot and killed by the robber. The robber ran from the scene with a handful of money, dropping coins along the way, and was seen by three people, Bradford Kevin Roup, Alma Maxine Shook and her husband, Harold B. Shook, who saw him running away down the street.
All three witnesses gave statements to the Police the following day, in the form of written, typed and signed statements. A witness in Midland had seen Michael Ray Yager’s vehicle and provided the licence plate number to the Police. Yager was arrested and, rather than reveal the involvement of his real partner in crime, he dragged Travis into it. Travis was arrested later that night based on Yager’s statement to the Police.
Yager's initial statement implicating Travis is reflected in a Police Report dated November 27, 1978 in which the detective notes that Yager had called his wife, and told her he had the last name wrong, and it was not "David" but "Travis or Travers" She called the cops to relay this information, and they locked onto Travis.
Yager also gave a formal statement to the Police on November 27, 1978 claiming that he had gone with Travis to try to find some weed in Midlands, and Travis had told him of a plan to rob a gas station. The statement was inconsistent in many ways, but Yager eventually claimed that Travis had gone into the gas station, and come out, got into the car, shoved the gun and some money at him, and told him to drive away, and that he "was involved". Notably, in this statement, Yager admits having disposed of the gun from the robbery, claiming to have traded it to "The Thomas brothers" in Saginaw for a "dime bag of weed". (id)
Travis was arrested the following day and charged with murder.
During the Preliminary Hearing, when Roup and the Shooks gave in-court identifications implicating Travis, the lawyer asked to review their prior statements before cross-examining them but was refused by the Court.
Following the Preliminary Hearing, and before trial Travis’ lawyers repeatedly requested access to the witness statements, under the Rules of Discovery, and asked for exculpatory material, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1963 ruling in Brady vs. Maryland, in which the Court held that the Prosecutor is constitutionally required to turn over information it has in its possession which is favorable to the Defense in a criminal case, and which include information that can impeach state witnesses.
Following an extensive Hearing on the written motion for the statements, the Trial Judge issued an order that the Prosecutor had to forward all of the statements to the court to review "in camera" (which means by the court alone) to determine whether any "Brady material” was present. In a written Decision after the documents were reviewed by the Judge, he ordered that the Prosecutor turn over the statements of two friends of Yagers, Steven Oliver and Deborah Smith, (who never testified) and the statements of Travis’s two sisters regarding his alibi, who both testified. The Judge then inexplicably ordered the remainder of the statements, and specifically including the initial statements of Roup and the Shooks, the only eyewitnesses to the crime, to be sealed to the Court. This is something that has never been seen before by the litigators for Actual Innocent Prisoners with a collective experience of over one hundred years of reading hundreds of thousands of transcripts and cases.
At the Trial, Bradford Roup, Harold Shook and Alma Maxine Shook all testified as to having seen someone running from the gas station after the attendant yelled out that he had been robbed and/or shot, and identified Travis as the man they saw running away.
Yager testified to his story about going to Midland with Travis to try to find some weed, and Travis robbing the gas station without his knowledge, getting back in the car, shoving the gun and money at him, and telling him to drive away.
Travis’s two sisters, Kathy and Ruthie Jones, both testified that they were at home, with Travis babysitting, during the time of the robbery. They both also testified that, after 10pm, Yager came by the house banging on the door looking for Travis. Their testimony matched their statements given to Police on the day of Travis’s arrest.
The Prosecutor also presented evidence that a single fingerprint that belonged to Travis had been found on the counter of the gas station.
Travis testified at Trial and explained how he was at home, babysitting his sisters, Kathy and Ruthie, and how Yager had come by that night along with another man Travis did not know, named "Lonnie" or "Ronnie", and how Yager had paid Travis for some weed Travis had given him several days earlier.
Travis also testified that he had been working at Dow, down the street from the Purple Martin Gas Station and that he had got gas there the day before the robbery. This was a self-serve gas station (it was 1979), where all patrons had to go inside to pay for the gas. Travis’s fingerprints were found where they would be expected to be, as he was a customer the day before the robbery. This was how his fingerprint had got onto the counter.
The Police testified that there was no "Ronnie or Lonnie" and that Travis was lying about everything.
After only a few hours of deliberating, and having requested to review testimony from several witnesses, the Jury was pulled into the Courtroom by the Trial Judge and given a "modified Allen charge", urging them to arrive at a verdict. The "Allen charge" is a court-approved jury instruction developed to encourage a jury to continue deliberating, only after it indicates that it cannot reach a verdict, after prolonged deliberations. In this case, the Jury had deliberated only 2-3 hours, and were not deadlocked. Moreover, the instruction the Judge gave was unsolicited and varied from the proper Allen charge. After the Jury was again sent to deliberate by the judge, they discontinued reviewing evidence and, after less than 2 hours, reached the verdict convicting Travis.
Danny was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Danny Travis #158592
Lakeland Correctional Institution
141 First Street
Coldwater, MICHIGAN 49036
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Order for Discovery (pdf)Download
Order of Pre-Trial Motions - Page 1 (pdf)Download
Order of Pre-Trial Motions - Page 2 (pdf)Download
State of Michigan Court of Appeals (pdf)Download
Supporting Documentary Evidence - 1 (pdf)Download
Supporting Documentary Evidence - 2 (pdf)Download
Travis’s Appeal Lawyer argued only the inappropriate and modified Allen Charge as an error, along with other jury instruction errors. The Court of Appeals rejected the argument, although one judge was adamant that the error required reversal and a new Trial, writing a scathing dissenting opinion.
THE NEW EVIDENCE
In May 1999, Travis had a law clerk who looked over his case, to help him file a Motion to the Court seeking the unsealing of the statements, records and other documents that the Trial Judge had ordered sealed before the Trial. The new Judge denied this motion on June 3, 2002. After the law clerk helped him file a Reconsideration request, the Judge granted the motion, ordered the documents unsealed and that a copy to be provided to Travis.
Within these documents, Travis discovered that the initial statements of Bradford Roup, Harold Shook and Maxine Shook was very different from their trial testimony identifying Travis as the man they saw that night.
Travis is extremely dark-skinned, almost blue-black. His skin tone is distinctive and the first thing you notice when you look at him.
A review of Bradford Roup's initial statement demonstrates that he did not see the person's skin color despite testifying otherwise at trial. Roup also testified that the man had an afro haircut.
A review of Harold Shook's initial statement demonstrates that he described the man as "I've got to say black because white skin would have showed up", along with having an afro haircut.
A review of Alma Maxine Shook's statement demonstrates that she described the man as "sort of medium brown in color". Mrs. Shook also described the man as wearing a "knitted stocking cap". This conflicts with the afro hair cut that the other two witnesses described.
Moreover, both of the Shooks' descriptions are uncannily identical, both describing the man as "5' 5", "small-framed" and "about 130". The identicality of these descriptions indicates that they were discussed heavily before the statements were taken, evidenced by the use of the phrase "small framed" which is not a commonly used term.
These statements vary significantly from the testimony of these witnesses at Trial and at the preliminary hearing, and the fact the Trial Judge reviewed them and rather than release them to the defense instead elected to seal them away is unprecedented and inexplicable.
Also included in the hidden documents was a Police Report reflecting the statement of Becky Munro, an employee of the gas station, who advised Police that she was told that a Carl Spitnale, who worked with Travis, had seen Travis at the gas station before the robbery, getting gas. This information was known to the Police and Prosecutor, but withheld from the Defense, and corroborated Travis’s testimony establishing the innocent explanation of his fingerprint being found at the station. The Police Report reflects that the Police and Prosecutor had the contact information for the witness, Spitnale, but never turned the exculpatory evidence over to the Defense, instead lying to the jury in disputing Travis’s testimony, when they knew it was true.
Another hidden document was a Police Report dated January 26, 1979 in which the Police interviewed a person who was alleged to have possession of the .22 caliber pistol used in the crime.
The name of that person Ronnie McClain. The same "Ronnie or Lonnie" that Travis testified that Yager brought by his house the night of the robbery that the Prosecutor argued did not exist. Yet the Prosecutor knew that there was a "Ronnie" associated with this robbery, yet lied to the jury in denying Travis’s testimony.
The initial statement of Yager was also contained within the withheld and sealed documents, which contains many discrepancies from his trial testimony, including his trial testimony that he was using "about a half once" of marijuana and beer that night, and in his statement claiming that he was not high.
After reviewing this case and all of the evidence, including the fact that Danny Travis has no prior convictions, the fact that the Prosecution and the Trial Judge worked in concert to hide and seal away vital initial eyewitness statements that contradicted their in-court identifications of Travis and the existence of the "Ronnie" that Travis testified to was with Yager the night of the robbery, and who had possession of the gun used in the robbery, demonstrating that Yager was a liar, it is unavoidable to determine anything other than that Danny Travis is actually innocent of any involvement in the robbery and murder for which he has has been imprisoned wrongly for over forty years.