JOYCE Ann Brown's nightmare began when her mother, Ruby Kelley, called her on Friday, May 9, 1980.
"Joyce," her mother said on that never-to-be-forgotten day," . . . there's a story in the paper that says the police are looking for you for the murder and robbery of a fur store owner."
Brown, now 44, told her mother that it was all a mistake and rushed to the store to buy a copy of the Dallas Morning News, which reported (HUNT FOR SUSPECTS IN FURRIER'S MURDER SPREADS) that on Tuesday, May 6, at about 1 p.m., two Black women had shot and killed the owner of Fine Furs By Rubin and had escaped with stolen furs in a 1980 brown Datsun that had been rented to a Joyce Ann Brown. The trigger woman, according to an eyewitness, wore pink pants and dark glasses, and the other robber wore a navy blue jogging suit.
Joyce Ann Brown couldn't believe her eyes. For she had worked from 8:48 a.m. to 4:12 p.m. on the day in question, and she had witnesses to prove it. Indignant, as any innocent citizen would be, she decided to go to the police station to clear up this misunderstanding. But Kelley, or MaDear as her family calls her, urged caution.
"When Joyce said she was going to the police station," MaDear recalls, "I told her, 'Don't go down there because you may not come back.'"
MaDear was right.
The police took one look at Brown and arrested her on the spot. From that moment, the wheels of justice started churning a reckless path through Brown's life, a path that would lead to nine years, five months and 24 days behind bars as prisoner No. 314036A at Mountain View prison. And almost every step of that path would be marked by strange coincidences.
There were, to begin with, too many Joyce Ann Browns. For police discovered almost immediately that the Joyce Ann Brown who rented the car was not the Joyce Ann Brown in police custody. The Joyce Ann Brown who rented the car from Dollar Rent A Car in Denver, lived in Denver. When she was questioned, she said she had loaned the car to a woman named Renee Taylor. The Denver Joyce Ann Brown, like the Dallas Joyce Ann Brown, said she was at work during the murder-robbery, and she, like the Dallas Joyce Ann Brown, produced witnesses who supported her story. (Astonishingly, according to reporter Brad Bailey, a third Joyce Ann Brown was a deputy in the court that tried Joyce Ann Brown.)
By this time, a confidential police informant--never identified--had focused attention on Renee Taylor, a Dallas woman with criminal records in several states who reportedly specialized in fur store robberies. Two years before the robbery at Fine Furs by Rubin, Renee Taylor and another Black woman wearing a navy blue jogging suit, had robbed a fur store in Albuquerque, N.M. The Albuquerque accomplice, according to published photographs and investigators who later interviewed her, bears a striking resemblance to Joyce Ann Brown. Although Brown is light brown and the Albuquerque accomplice is dark brown, "the facial similarity," investigator Jim McCloskey told a reporter, "is just amazing."
Acting on a tip, police raided the apartment of Renee Taylor, who had apparently fled the state. They found a .22 caliber revolver that had been fired, furs, and a pink jogging suit. They also found Taylor's fingerprints in the getaway car. They searched Joyce Ann Brown's Dallas home but could not find the blue jogging suit nor her fingerprints in the car or on any object linked to the crime.
Despite the negative evidence, police started building a case against Brown, a Black woman with a police record who, in many respects, was a perfect "fall woman." To her dismay, police revealed that she had an arrest record as a prostitutes. She didn't deny the fact, but claimed that she had worked as a call girl--"I never stood on street corners"--to get money to help support her family, which included 15 siblings and two children. But all that, she told police, was behind her. …