America’s longest serving wrongfully convicted man has filed suit in Oklahoma

Joe Norwood with Glynn Simmons

Attorney Joseph Norwood (left) with Glynn Simmons.

By G.W. Schulz

An innocent man Norwood.Law helped prove was wrongfully convicted of murder has filed a lawsuit in federal court over an ordeal that has consumed most of his life. With our firm’s help, the complaint from 71-year-old Glynn Ray Simmons was filed on Jan. 26, 2024, and alleges that local authorities in Oklahoma City and nearby Edmond ignored clear opportunities to come to the conclusion that Simmons did not commit a 1974 robbery and murder at a liquor store. 

Simmons served 48 years, one month, and 18 days in Oklahoma’s prison system for the crime. At the time of his arrest, Simmons had a three-year-old boy. He was nearly a boy himself when his nightmare began at just 22 years old. The lawsuit suit says that police had no or “woefully inadequate” policies in place for conducting lineups and turning over evidence that could prove a defendant’s innocence. 

It also says that critical evidence in the case was withheld from Simmons, which denied him the constitutional right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. According to the complaint: 

“In serving the majority of his life to date behind bars, plaintiff was wrongfully deprived of his entire young and middle adulthood. … He missed out on the ability to share holidays, births, funerals, and other life events with loved ones, the opportunity to marry, raise children, and pursue a career, and the fundamental freedom to live one’s life as an autonomous human being.” 

Authorities never had any physical evidence tying Simmons to the killing, in which a woman named Carolyn Sue Rogers lost her life. Investigators and prosecutors relied instead on a single, questionable eyewitness to send Simmons to death row. His sentence was ultimately amended to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court during the 1970s changed how the death penalty could be applied. 

The suit names the cities of Edmond and Oklahoma City and two former detectives who investigated the Simmons case. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. Simmons and a co-defendant were first convicted in 1975 of murdering a liquor-store clerk and shooting a customer in the head who survived. 

Simmons has always sworn that he had nothing to do with the offense. He was 700 miles away in his hometown of Harvey, Louisiana, for the holidays of 1974, Simmons maintains. It was only later when the robbery investigation was underway that he happened to move to Oklahoma City for a job. Police do not appear to have ever looked into Simmons’s alibi.

For decades, Simmons desperately tried to fight his own case. Then Norwood.Law became involved and filed a detailed, 98-page application for post-conviction relief in 2022 asking the court to take a fresh look at the case. 

Oklahoma County District Judge Amy Palumbo did so and chose to vacate Simmons’s conviction in the spring of 2023. Judge Palumbo cited police lineup reports that were denied to Simmons during his original trial in 1975. Then the case was dismissed after it became clear that prosecutors in Oklahoma City could not win a new trial. In December of 2023, Judge Palumbo went one step further and declared Simmons formally innocent “by clear and convincing evidence.”  

As of today, 14 people have given sworn testimony supporting the assertion long made by Simmons that he was in Louisiana at the time of the robbery. But the detectives and prosecutors in 1975 pursued Simmons anyway and hinged their case against him entirely on a lone, problematic eyewitness. Prosecutors treated the customer, Belinda Brown, who survived being shot in the head, as irrefutable evidence that Simmons was guilty. Yet Brown admitted to only having glimpsed at the perpetrators for a few seconds after she first entered the store.

Her initial description of the suspects to police was vague. Simmons was shorter than what Brown described for investigators. Brown was troubling in other ways. At a preliminary hearing in the case, she admitted to identifying two other men during suspect lineups who were not Glynn Simmons and co-defendant Don Roberts. Brown would later say she had only selected parts of faces and not made identifications.  

Then on another occasion, Belinda Brown selected a man from police lineups who was also not Simmons or Roberts. That suspect cleared a polygraph test, however. Simmons and Roberts were never given the opportunity to take their own polygraph tests. 

Further eroding Brown’s credibility are key records from the Edmond Police Department that weren’t made available to Simmons until 20 years after his conviction. Those police lineup reports raise glaring questions about whether Belinda Brown ever even clearly identified Glynn Simmons and Don Roberts as the perpetrators. It instead appears as if she identified two brothers who were tied up in two unrelated murders at the time. Brown conceded that one of the perpetrators she “did not see that well.” And when making her lineup choices, she hesitated with “I think.”

Even the prosecutors who were responsible for sending Simmons and Roberts to prison later began to show doubts about the case years after the trial was concluded. Prosecutor Robert Mildfelt wrote letters in support of Simmons:

“Your case has troubled me these many years, because of the many questions unanswered by the evidence we had. … Quite candidly, it was one of the few cases I have been involved in that the verdict a week later could easily have been different.”

Another prosecutor in the case, Dan Murdock, told the media that “you go with what you got,” and a jury decides the rest: “You know your feelings and attitudes and opinions on things change over the years. Now looking back on it, there are things I’d have done different, sure. … (The jury) relied on eyewitness testimony. But now we’ve seen that’s not always the best (evidence).”

Co-defendant Don Roberts was released on parole in 2008. Simmons, on the other hand, was denied that same consideration as the years passed and he steadfastly refused to confess. The lawsuit in his name says that Simmons continues to suffer and endure hardship. He was ejected from prison with no way to support himself and no guidebook for how to survive on the outside. Simmons has a GoFundMe account set up to help him find some measure of peace and security. 

He is currently battling cancer.  

Joining the Simmons team alongside Norwood.Law are Jon Loevy, Elizabeth Wang, and Jordan Poole of the national civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy and John Coyle of the Coyle Law Firm in Oklahoma City.     

Are you tied up in a legal conflict? Do you need someone you can trust? Reach out to Norwood.Law for a free consultation at 918-582-6464. In addition to criminal defense, we practice personal injury, business, estates, family, and more.