By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun
In a tearful hearing Monday afternoon in 13th District Court, Randolph Arledge was released on bond, exonerated of murder after 32 years behind bars.
Arledge was convicted and sentenced in 1984 to having murdered Carol Elaine Armstrong, 21, of Blooming Grove. The young woman was found stabbed 45 times on a road about three miles from Highway 22, left nearly nude on the side of the road.
Arledge was linked to the murder through a knife found in his van, as well as through testimony from two people to whom he had allegedly bragged about killing a girl in Corsicana.
He was sentenced to 99 years in prison. About 11 years ago, he contacted the Innocence Project about having the evidence tested for DNA. After several inconclusive tests, a recent test came back positive for David Simms, not Arledge. After contacting one of the witnesses, Benny Ramos, the man recanted his testimony, opening the door for a declaration of innocence.
“It’s indescribable. You don’t ever believe it’s going to happen,” Arledge said following the hearing. He stood with his family and lawyers with the Innocence Project and posed with arms raised in victory.
He said his first actions will be to have a cheeseburger, fries and banana split from Dairy Queen. When he went into prison back in 1984, they didn’t even have bacon cheeseburgers, he said.
“I can’t wait to get into the car,” he said.
Driving him away from the courthouse were his son and daughter, Chris Rodgers, who was 7 when his father went to prison; and Randa Arledge, who was 3 at the time.
“It’s pretty hard,” he said of his time in prison. “Especially when you’ve got your child wanting me to pick her up from school and now she’s picking me up,” he said.
Randa cried as she hugged her father, now free.
“Everytime he came up for parole it was broken, shattered hopes,” she said. “It’s still unbelievable. It would never have happened without the Innocence Project and God.”
Arledge said he has a fiancee in Tennessee whom he met 15 years ago while he was still in prison, and who helped him with his case.
He’s also serving parole from an armed robbery in Tennessee, parole no one ever thought he’d have to live out because of his 99-year sentence.
Barry Scheck, executive director of the Innocence Project, praised the Navarro County District Attorney’s office for its cooperation and willingness to re-examine Arledge’s case. Arledge praised Judge James Lagomarsino for ruling to release him on bond.
The condition of his bond is that he check in with his parole officer in Tennessee. He’ll be allowed to remain in Texas, according to Scheck.
Lowell Thompson, Navarro County District Attorney, said the case will be reopened with the DNA results.
“We want to make sure we have the right individual that killed that young lady,” he said. “The case is open. It’s going to be actively worked until we can close it out. Right now, there’s nothing to point to Arledge.”
“If someone else killed this young lady we don't want them out on the streets,” Thompson said. “We have identified another suspect that we'll be investigating."
Also attending the hearing were a dozen other exonerees, most of whom came down from Dallas.
“To be supportive. So he knows he ain’t alone,” explained Claude Simmons Jr., who spent 12 years in prison.
One of Armstrong’s brothers was in the courtroom, but left immediately after the hearing. He was not available for comment.
Arledge said he felt for Armstrong’s family, particularly her mother.
Arledge will be compensated for each year he was incarcerated, to the tune of about $80,000 a year, as well as receive an annuity and other benefits, according to the Associated Press.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at email@example.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? Email: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com