THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT
                 Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: MONDAY, June 27, 1994                    TAG: 9406270090 
SECTION: FRONT                     PAGE: A5    EDITION: FINAL  
DATELINE: 940627                                 LENGTH: Medium 


{LEAD} Alton Waye died in August 1989 in Virginia's electric chair, despite documented questions about his role in the murder of an elderly widow, conflicting testimony by witnesses, suppressed evidence and misleading statements by prosecutors.

Waye was convicted of the 1977 murder of 61-year-old Lavergne B. Marshall of Lunenburg County. She was raped, beaten, bitten and stabbed 42 times and doused with bleach.

{REST} Soon after the murder, Waye turned himself in and confessed. Police later said he initially would not have been a suspect because there was nothing to link him to the crime.

His lawyers argued there were medical reasons for doubting his confession, including brain damage, borderline retardation, intoxication and drug use. They also discovered new and suppressed evidence casting doubt on the state's case.

``Analyzed in the context of everything that is now known about the case against Mr. Waye, these false impressions form the tips of some very large icebergs - icebergs of doubt, real, reasonable, substantial doubt about whether Alton Waye is actually guilty of the capital murder for which he stands convicted, condemned, and on the brink of execution,'' court papers said.

After Waye's confession, the investigation was one-dimensional, court records show. Waye's cousin, Len Gooden, played a key role in the conviction. He claimed to be at the scene during the murder, but outside asleep in the car after a night of drinking.

Gooden was the state's main witness against Waye, yet police never focused on evidence that could have linked him to the crime. Evidence later showed he probably was inside the house when the rape and murder occurred.

``I think by the time it got to the jury, they were so mad at Alton Waye because they saw the bloody photographs that they wanted to put him away,'' said J. Lloyd Snook III, who represented Waye. ``For whatever it's worth, you had a young black man accused of raping and killing an elderly white woman.''

The jury deliberated 10 minutes before rendering Waye guilty and about 25 minutes before sentencing him to die.

But the jury didn't know the whole story. Evidence that could have cast doubt on Waye's guilt did not make it into the courtroom:

Semen removed from the victim's body could have come from either Gooden or Waye, court records show.

Prosecutors said that semen on Waye's clothes proved he raped the woman. But the semen could have been there for a number of reasons not connected to the rape.

Prosecutors said that hairs found at the scene ``were similar in all characteristics'' to Waye's. But the actual forensic notes reflect nothing more than that the hairs were from a black person. The hairs could as easily have been Gooden's.

Court papers said that, at some point, Gooden told authorities that Waye drank six pitchers of beer and a quart of moonshine before the murder. But Gooden testified at trial that Waye drank only seven or eight cans of beer. Prosecutors made no effort to correct the inconsistency.

A police officer said in a sworn statement that Gooden never told him about the six pitchers of beer and moonshine. He also testified he did not think Waye was intoxicated. But court papers show that Gooden did tell him about the drinking and that the officer considered Waye to be impaired when he first questioned him. This would be important information at sentencing, but prosecutors never corrected the misstatements.

Waye's lawyers tried to stall his execution to prove Gooden's involvement.

Gooden had a record of breaking and entering, and between the murder and Waye's trial he was arrested for a similar offense. He later was convicted in Michigan of raping a white woman and became a suspect in a series of similar violent rapes there. The rapes ceased once Gooden was jailed, court papers show.

In an August 1989 affidavit - a dozen years after the murder - a Michigan lawyer said he interviewed Gooden and believed he had a role in the crime.

``He came very close to confessing to breaking into the victim's house and to committing the rape,'' said Richard A. Neaton. ``I am convinced based on my experience as a prosecutor and as a criminal defense lawyer that Gooden was in the house that evening, and was not in the car asleep as he testified at trial.''


by CNB