Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins

Photo of exonerees Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins

Age at the date of crime: 31 (Mr. Lawrence) and 39 (Mr. Jenkins)

County of Conviction: Lewis and Clark County

Convicted of: Murder, Robbery, and Kidnapping

Sentence: 100 years each

Years Served: 23 years each

Cost of Wrongful Incarceration: $828,000 each (in 2015 dollars)

Fred Lawrence and Paul Jenkins spent over 23 years each in prison for a crime they did not commit. 

On February 24, 1995, Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Jenkins were convicted of the Murder, Robbery, and Kidnapping of Donna Meagher. They were each sentenced to 100 years in prison.

As there was no physical evidence linking Mr. Lawrence or Mr. Jenkins to the crime, the state’s case relied largely on the testimony of Mary Jenkins, Mr. Jenkins’s wife. The prosecution relied on her despite the fact that Dr. William Stratford, a forensic psychiatrist, concluded that Ms. Jenkins suffered from dementia and had an IQ of 70, which reflects a severely diminished mental capacity.

During its reinvestigation, the Montana Innocence Project found that the DNA on evidence at the crime scene did not match Mr. Lawrence or Mr. Jenkins, but did match David Nelson. Almost 20 years earlier, Mr. Nelson’s nephew told law enforcement that his uncle had admitted to the murder, but was told nothing could be done because there was no evidence. This occurred three years after Mr. Lawrence’s and Mr. Jenkins’ convictions.

Based on the DNA evidence and the statement from Mr. Nelson’s nephew, Lewis and Clark  District Court Judge Kathy Seeley granted the Montana Innocence Project’s motion to overturn the convictions of Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Jenkins. On June 1, 2018, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

Unfortunately, despite Mr. Nelson’s nephew attempt to alert law enforcement about his uncle’s confession, law enforcement chose not to pursue Mr. Nelson. Mr. Nelson was later convicted of a 2015 double murder in Deer Lodge and sentenced to life in prison. These murders occurred 17 years after Mr. Nelson’s nephew originally warned law enforcement about his uncle.