Monday, June 01, 2009


Perry Anthony Cribbs: A case of inadequate defense and faulty eyewitness testimony

In November 1994, Perry Anthony Cribbs was convicted of killing Linda Harris in Memphis, Tennessee, with no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Cribbs' conviction was based on the questionable eyewitness identification of Harris' husband and the unreliable testimony of Cribbs' then mentally ill, drug addicted girlfriend. Because Cribbs' attorneys failed to investigate his case, the jury never heard testimony from an alibi witness or a witness who had information that others, including Mrs. Harris' husband committed the crime. The jury never heard from Linda Harris' family and friends who knew that Harris' husband had motives to have her killed.

Linda Harris was shot and killed between 1:30-2:00 a.m. on January 2, 1994 after returning home from a party with her husband. According to Mrs. Harris' husband, Sidney Harris, two men wearing black ski masks were inside the house when he and his wife came home. There were no lights on in the house. The only light into the house came from the carport. Linda Harris was fatally shot first, and then Mr. Harris was shot in his left shoulder and lost three fingertips. The day after his wife's murder, Mr. Harris told police that he could not identify the perpetrators as they were wearing black ski masks.

After a fight between Perry Cribbs and his girlfriend, Jacqueline "Jackie" Cannon, Jackie's brother called Crime Stoppers and reported that Mr. Cribbs was involved in Linda Harris' murder. He told police that his sister told him that Perry told her he was involved. Jackie and her brother received $1,000 which they split. Ms. Cannon did not go to the police after talking to her brother. When police tracked her down six weeks after the murder, Ms. Cannon told them that Perry confessed to killing Linda Harris. Jackie Cannon was addicted to crack cocaine both when she made her statement to police and when she testified against Cribbs at trial. Three witnesses testified at a post-conviction hearing that Ms. Cannon was addicted to crack cocaine and had paranoid hallucinations. She was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Cribbs' trial attorneys were aware that Cannon was addicted to crack but never investigated her drug use or mental state.

After his arrest, Cribbs' photo was released to the media and shown on the local news. Mr. Harris, who previously told police that he could not identify the perpetrators, was shown a photo lineup of suspects and then identified Perry Cribbs as the shooter. At the trial, Mr. Harris testified that he could identify Cribbs because the perpetrators wore nylon masks, testimony completely inconsistent with his original statement to police that he could not identify the perpetrators because they had on black ski masks. Additionally, the murder weapon was never found nor did the police ever arrest anyone else, though Mr. Harris told police there were two perpetrators.

When Perry Cribbs was arrested he told police that he was playing basketball with his friend, "Frog," who real name is Eugene Bowen, on the night of the murder. However, Cribbs' attorneys never attempted to contact Mr. Bowen. At the post-conviction hearing, Mr. Bowen testified that he and Cribbs spent New Year's night drinking beer and playing basketball which they were playing into the early morning hours of January 2, 1994.

On February 12, 1994, two days before Cribbs' arrest, a Shelby County jail inmate named James Parker contacted Memphis homicide detectives and told them that he was present when a man he identified as Sidney Harris asked a drug dealer to find someone to kill his wife. According to Mr. Parker's statement, Sidney Harris owed the dealer money.

Mr. Parker said he was also present days later when three men, who he identified by nicknames, talked about killing Linda Harris. They said they should have killed the husband too instead of only wounding him. The detectives assigned to the case did not follow up on the lead nor did Cribbs' trial attorneys ever attempt to contact Parker or anyone named in his statement. At the post conviction hearing, Mr. Parker stated that he served his time for the petty crime for which he was in custody and did not expect to receive a deal for providing information to the police. Other witnesses testified at the post-conviction hearing that Sidney Harris was involved in the sale of drugs.

Neither the state nor Cribbs' attorneys talked to the family and friends of Linda Harris, several of whom, at the post-conviction hearing, testified to the problems in the Harris marriage and about Sidney Harris' behavior before and after his wife's death. Sidney Harris did not have a job, often left home for long periods of time, and had at least one girlfriend of whom Linda Harris was aware. One of Linda Harris' sisters testified that on one occasion, Mrs. Harris called her crying because Sidney had hit her head into the window. In the weeks before her death, Linda Harris wrote a letter to her sister expressing concern about what would happen to her daughter if something happened to her. Family members were aware that Linda Harris' life insurance was changed before her death and that there was a gun in the home. Sidney Harris did not attend his wife's funeral even though he had his doctor's permission to do so, and even Mr. Harris' own brother called police and told them that he did not think his brother was telling everything he knew about the murder.The police still never pursued Harris as a suspect, and again, Cribbs' trial attorneys never investigated Harris or talked to his brother, even though they were aware of his brother's statement.

One week before trial and with an incomplete investigation, Cribbs' lead attorney withdrew from the case due to illness, and second counsel took over. New counsel did not ask for a continuance in order to complete the investigation. Another attorney was appointed as co-counsel but did not have time to prepare before trial. Co-counsel considered herself to be a "water girl," as she was only there to "carry water" for the lead attorney.

Perry Cribbs maintains that he is innocent of this crime and has no knowledge of Linda Harris murder. This case demonstrates the problems that currently plague the death penalty system, including grossly inadequate representation at trial and faulty eyewitness testimony. With no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, Cribbs received a death sentence. Perry Cribbs deserves a new trial with effective attorneys in order to get a fair hearing and to present the overwhelming evidence of his innocence.

On December 21, 2009, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Perry Cribbs should get a new sentencing hearing in this case. The case will be remanded back to the trial court for sentencing.