The following interview appeared here at The Literary Lawyer.
Richard Miles spent years in prison after being wrongly convicted and sentenced to 80 years. He lives in Texas and speaks about false imprisonment.
Richard, thanks for doing this interview. You and I have gotten to know each other through email correspondence. I believe you first contacted me after reading my review of Dorothy and Peyton Budd’s Tested: How Twelve Wrongly Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope (Dallas, TX: Brown Books Publishing Group, 2010). You are one of those twelve men. Tell us how you became part of the book. What do you think of the book, now that you’ve seen the final product?
The first time anyone heard of or read anything about Richard Ray Miles was in The Dallas Morning News. I remember that morning as if it was yesterday. To be arrested for murder and attempted murder, at the age of 19, was a horrific experience, but to wake up Monday morning and read that I was the shooter, in a murder I didn’t commit, tore out my insides. Mr. Mendenhall, my fight for innocence was not just for me—I knew I was innocent—but for my mom and dad. I didn’t want the story to be the last thing that my father—a minister in the neighborhood who had to hear accusations about his son—to read. So, when the book Tested was completed, it was like a dream come true: now Dallas residents could read about MY INNOCENCE.
You’ve been through a lot. Would you mind telling us your story? Start wherever you want to start.
I was born in Dallas to Thelma Malone and Richard Miles. My parents split when I was young, but not long after my mom met William Lloyd and married him. I was probably about five when that happened, so to say I was without a father is false. My dad, William, became a minister when I was still young, so I grew up in a very strict, religious household. Going to church every day was not out of the ordinary. For the most part, my older sister, two younger brothers and I had a very good upbringing.
As far as schooling goes, I was very smart and interested in learning. I went to an academy for middle school and then to Skyline High School, which was one of the most prestigious schools at the time. When I made it to Skyline, I began to feel something different. I felt that my parents were way too strict on me. As young children do, I began to rebel—nothing too extreme, but rebellious nevertheless. I was kicked out of Skyline at the end of 11th grade and was transferred to Kimball. Kimball and Skyline were two totally different places to learn. To be more precise, Kimball was a Hood School; its reputation preceded itself.
By the time I got into Kimball and got ready to take my senior exams, I got a reputation for coming to school drunk. Mind you, I was not a drinker, so any little thing was not good. The long and short is that I made it all the way to the 12th grade, but did not graduate. I left home a little after that, never to be in the streets or in a gang because I was working at McDonalds, and I actually liked the idea of having a job. All that changed when my friend came to pick me up from my parents’ house. He asked me about selling drugs. I had never been introduced to that, and by mere peer pressure, my entire life was turned around.
I struggled on the streets for probably one year, but that was enough to experience a life I will never return to. On May 15th, I was walking home, not knowing there was a shooting miles away, and I got picked up for a murder and an attempted murder. I have never shot a gun in my life, nor ever thought about stealing or tried to steal someone’s things by force. So, I knew I would be going home soon. The whole interrogation lasted probably five or six hours. Because my friend had driven me home and wasn’t with me when I was walking and got picked up, I gave the detective phone numbers of people who could identify my whereabouts. My friend had gone to his girlfriend’s place. That’s why I was walking by myself. All in all, I gave the detective four phone numbers of people who could verify my whereabouts and confirm that I was not the shooter. The detective left and came back about an hour later. He said, “Your story checked out, but you killed that man, and you’re going to prison.” I was lost at that point.
I stayed in the county jail for 17 months before I went to trial. I was given a court-appointed lawyer. In August 1995, I had a jury trial.
There were ten witnesses, nine of whom said I was not the shooter. No weapon was ever found, and the fingerprints that were retrieved were neither mine nor the victims’. One person who was shot testified that I did not look like the shooter, and my alibis came as well. Nevertheless, I was found guilty of murder and attempted murder and sentenced to 80 years in prison.
After I had sent out numerous letters and spent 14 years in prison, I was contacted by an organization out of Princeton, New Jersey, that picked up my case and found in the police record an anonymous phone record received before I went to trial. This record mentioned the real shooter as well as other confidential information. This stuff had never been turned in. Based on that and other exculpatory evidence, I was released in October 2009; I was the first non-DNA release under District Attorney Craig Watkins.
Now I’m awaiting full exoneration, even though the DA and my judge pronounced me innocent.
How has literature influenced you?
I was never a person who liked to read. I mean, there were certain topics that intrigued me, but to just sit back and enjoy the art of literature—I can’t say that I have. Experience has a tendency to change a person’s views on life, as well as on how he perceives certain things. After reading the stories in the book Tested, and knowing that these stories are as true as they are inspirational, and seeing my story among those of other men like me, I was motivated to embrace literature. Life without literature would not have as much clarity, and good authors illuminate life experiences.
I wonder, do you have any special insights about the relationship of literature to law, since you have a unique connection to both.
The comparison of literature and law makes me think. Truthfully, because I love public speaking as a forum to get messages or information across to the masses, I see literature and law as related to speaking. First and foremost, studying different legal cases while I was in prison, and seeing how legal jargon and art have to be composed to get messages across, was very compelling. I eventually began to understand that a lot of times literature has the potential to unlock doors for you when your own appearance can’t. While reading the book Tested, I began to see how literature can educate people about law without really speaking about law.
You’ve begun to speak across the country. Tell us about your speaking and about any organizations you’re working with.
My traveling actually just began. When I started out I mainly focused on speaking in the Dallas area, and I viewed those engagements as just being informative as well as inspirational. Then when people started to listen to me and were moved not only by my experience but also by the perseverance that God had instilled in me, I began getting numerous speaking engagements. My first was in Princeton, New Jersey, which was magnificent. I actually spoke with John Grisham and Paul Dennehy. I am now in the process of going to New Hampshire to do an event with Betty Ann Waters, the sister from the movie Conviction. So, I am doubly excited. As far as an organization goes, I really don’t belong to any other than the Dallas Exonerees, which is made up of men who were also falsely imprisoned. Our primary focus is going to Austin and changing laws as well as implementing laws to prevent false imprisonment and help those being released after serving time.
Thanks, Richard, for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it, and I know the readers of this site will find your interview fascinating.