The Crusader Newspaper Group

Chicago man locked up in Texas denied parole for 21st time

A Chicago man who has been in a jail near Houston for 40 years, despite evidence that clears him of a murder, has been denied parole for the 21st time.

It’s a story the Crusader published in 2022, which featured Darius Elam, a father of four children who have struggled to move on with their lives.

In 1979, Elam, now 63, left Chicago for Texas Southern University in Houston on a track scholarship. Elam never received a degree and never returned home. Despite DNA evidence, Elam for the last 40 years has been behind bars, while fighting a losing battle to overturn a conviction that was based on a yellow piece of paper that was never logged and photographed at a murder scene.

Elam’s immediate problem is getting out of prison. Since his conviction in 1984, supporters say Elam has been a model inmate who has maintained his innocence. He has been up for parole every year since 2003, but in the past two decades, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied him parole 21 times.

The latest denial came on May 2. On Elam’s inmate profile on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Parole Board said Elam has “elements of brutality, violence, assaultive behavior, or conscious selection of victim’s vulnerability, indicating a conscious disregard for the lives, safety or property of others, such that the offender poses a continuing threat to public safety.”

But Elam’s supporters and relatives not only question the Parole Board’s reasoning, they are unhappy with Elam’s next parole eligibility date of May 2026. For the past 21 years, Elam’s supporters say his parole eligibility review occurred annually instead of every two years.

The Crusader was unable to contact Elam’s lawyer, Gary Udashen, to comment on the ruling. But Tammie Lang Campbell, the founder and executive director of the Honey Brown Hope Foundation in Houston, which has advocated for Elam’s exoneration and release from prison, said Elam disagrees with the ruling and is looking into whether he can appeal the decision.

“He’s going to appeal this ruling,” Campbell told the Crusader. “He’s been a model inmate who only had one incident decades ago involving possessing tobacco. But that was long ago.”

The Parole Board is a seven-member group that includes 14 commissioners. The group decides which eligible offenders to release on parole or discretionary mandatory supervision, and under what conditions. The Board uses research-based Parole Guidelines to assess each offender’s likelihood for a successful parole against the risk to society. According to its website, those guidelines include a risk assessment that takes into consideration the inmate’s age, prior incarcerations, employment history, education, disciplinary conduct and gang involvement history.

Elam’s parole eligibility date was May 2024. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s website, under Texas Parole Board rules and policy, the Parole Board may receive an inmate’s file as early as 60 days before the parole eligibility date, review any evidence contained in the file and then determine if the inmate should remain incarcerated or be released. Board rules allow all inmates being considered for parole to be interviewed by parole officials approximately six months before the parole eligibility date for a first review and four months before additional next review dates.

Under Texas law, the burden is upon the inmate to produce evidence that will convince the Parole Board to grant an inmate parole from prison. If there is no evidence that shows the inmate has changed, confronted whatever has caused him/her to commit crimes, and convince the Parole Board the inmate is no longer a threat to society, the Parole Board must deny the inmate release from prison. Should the Parole Board decide not to release an inmate to parole, they then determine when they would be willing to review the inmate again. While most cases have a one-year set-off before they are reviewed again by the Parole Board, there are other cases that can receive a 5- or 10-year set-off, depending on the type of crime.

For Elam, getting out of prison is another headache to an ordeal that took away his life.

The fifth of 11 siblings, Elam was born and raised in Chicago. He attended Fenger High School before he transferred as a sophomore to Julian High School. He excelled in track and then transferred to Calumet High School, where he graduated in 1978.

He earned a full track scholarship and in 1979 enrolled at Texas Southern University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), whose alumni include Hip Hop singer Megan Thee Stallion, ABC’s Good Morning America host Michael Strahan and Gospel singer Yolanda Adams. Tony award-winning singer and actress Jennifer Holliday also attended the school.

At TSU, Elam pledged to Black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha. In his junior year, Elam worked at a shoe store inside Houston’s Galleria, located nearly nine miles from TSU. He would occasionally meet Clarence Richardson, a familiar face on campus.

On May 7, 1983, Richard Bowen was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head. His body was found in a red vehicle behind Rice University, located five miles east of Houston’s ritzy Galleria Mall.

The day before Bowen’s death, on Friday, May 6, Elam went to pick up his paycheck at a shoe store in the Galleria Mall. At the mall, Elam ran into Richardson, who asked for a ride home. Elam agreed to the request, but the two stopped at a shoe store in the mall. Richardson offered to buy a pair of shoes for Elam, who promised to pay Richardson back.

Richardson attempted to pay for the items with an altered credit card and driver’s license that happened to belong to Bowen, the dead man in the car behind Rice University. Richardson had altered the driver’s license by putting his own photo over Bowen’s picture. When the store clerk realized that the altered driver’s license wasn’t authentic, she contacted security. The two men were arrested and placed in the Houston City Jail.

Richardson claimed he found the credit card at Houston’s McGregor Park, located 11 miles east of The Galleria.

The clerk at the shoe store said Elam wasn’t the one who presented the stolen credit card.

Forensic officers examined the vehicle for fingerprints. The officers were able to pull several fingerprints from the vehicle, but none were from Elam. The gun that was used to kill Bowen was found six days after he was found dead. It did not have Elam’s fingerprints on it.

In 2014, a post-conviction DNA test failed to link Elam to Bowen’s murder. A court hearing in 2019 gave the same conclusion.

In 2018, Gary Udashen, Elam’s attorney, filed a motion asking the judge to throw out Elam’s conviction on the grounds of innocence and the DNA testing.

Another examination of the vehicle occurred at the Houston Police Department. This time, the crime scene investigator extensively searched the car for additional evidence overlooked or not found by the previous investigators.

But 90 days after the vehicle was returned to Bowen’s family, on August 9, 1983, Houston Police Officer Leonard Lee Cooper, Jr., produced an 8 ½” x 11” yellow sheet of paper that was not originally logged or inventoried with the other pieces of evidence found in the vehicle. Blood splatter was found on the paper, which Elam said was from a college notebook inside his briefcase that was in the Harris County Jail property room, along with Elam’s other property, when he was arrested.

In 2008, Elam discovered the blood-spattered yellow piece of paper and most of the main evidence against him had been destroyed.

However, police said they found credit card receipts in Elam’s jacket during the arrest. Police said those receipts were important pieces of evidence.

But during the trial, Elam’s lawyer argued that he had not been made aware of the receipts before the proceedings. Elam’s lawyer in his closing argument reportedly said the receipts had been planted, as the initial search by a mall security guard did not produce such documents.

There was also a problem with two jail informants who said Elam committed the murder before prosecutors discovered they lied before and used multiple aliases to escape tougher sentencing as they racked up charges.

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