Rape suspect was on death row
The Gateway man suspected of kidnapping and raping a woman is a former Texas death row inmate who was exonerated after a judge threw out his confession — and all the related evidence — nearly 30 years ago, The Daily Sentinel has learned.
Mesa County Sheriff’s Sgt. Henry Stoffel confirmed that the Claude Lee Wilkerson who is being held in the Mesa County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond is the same man who spent four years on death row before he was freed from a Texas state prison in 1983.
Authorities continue to say little about their investigation into Wilkerson, who was arrested before dawn Sunday at his home in Gateway.
The arrest warrant in the case remains sealed.
Wilkerson, 61, is scheduled to be formally charged Monday with first-degree kidnapping, sexual assault, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, false imprisonment and harboring a minor.
Investigators have searched and gathered evidence from Wilkerson’s home.
They’re asking anyone with information about Wilkerson or the case to call Investigator Danny Norris at 970-244-3255.
Mesa County assessor records show Wilkerson purchased his home at 451 Foy Road in 2007.
Wilkerson’s public defender told a judge earlier this week that Wilkerson has lived in Mesa County for the past 20 years and off and on for the last 40, and that he’s run a business in Gateway for the past six years.
Wilkerson was one of four men arrested in 1978 in connection with the slayings of three people who were taken hostage during a jewelry store robbery in Texas. The victims’ bodies were later found in a shallow grave, according to a 1987 Associated Press article.
Wilkerson was convicted of capital murder in the deaths of one of the victims and sentenced to death. He entered a Texas state prison in 1979, Texas Department of Public Safety records show.
He was release on bond, however, in 1983 after the Texas Court of Appeals, in a split decision, reversed Wilkerson’s conviction, ruling police had illegally obtained his confession because he didn’t waive his Miranda rights.
A Texas state district court judge later agreed and tossed out the evidence that accompanied the confession.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear prosecutors’ appeal.
With no confession and no evidence to build a case on, prosecutors in 1987 dismissed the charges against Wilkerson, according to the Associated Press article.