Joyce Ann Brown, an Unfortunate Name

At about 1:00 pm on May 6th, 1980, two armed black women entered Fine Furs by Rubin on Northwest Highway in north Dallas. They demanded that the store’s proprietors, Rubin and Ala Danziger, hand over their stock of furs. One of the women shot Mr. Danziger as he was begging for his life, then shot toward Mrs. Danziger, but missed. Mrs. Danziger was only saved from a second shot when she claimed to be dying from terminal cancer.[1] The shooter reportedly said, “We’ll just let you suffer,” before fleeing with her accomplice.[2] Mr. Danziger died. He was 54 years old.[3]

The police located the brown 1980 Datsun getaway car the following day and learned that it had been rented in Denver to a Joyce Ann Brown. A search of Dallas’ criminal records identified a Joyce Ann Brown with a prior prostitution charge. Two days after the shooting, Brown learned that she was wanted for questioning from an article in the Dallas Morning News. Thinking she could correct the mistaken identity, she turned herself in. Dallas police immediately arrested Brown. On October 23rd, an all-white jury convicted Brown of murder and aggravated robbery and sentenced her to life in prison.[4] All but one juror had voted for the death penalty.[5]

Brown appealed her case and fought for her freedom for the next nine years. In November of 1989, the courts ordered Brown’s release based on evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, perjury, and mistaken identity. In February of 1990, Brown was fully exonerated.[6] She died on June 13, 2015 after suffering from a heart attack and series of strokes[7]. She was 68 years old.[8]

Weaknesses in the case against Brown were evident early in the investigation. For one, investigators learned long before the trial that the implicated Joyce Ann Brown was not the same Joyce Ann Brown who rented the car. They even questioned Denver’s Joyce Ann Brown who told them she had lent the car to a friend named Renee Michelle Taylor. Investigators searched Taylor’s Dallas apartment and found furs taken during the robbery, pink pants that matched the description of pants worn by the shooter, .22 caliber pistol someone had cleaned. In contrast, investigators found nothing suspicious when they searched the home of the Brown they had in custody.[9] Investigators also found a fingerprint on the getaway car matching Taylor, but not Brown. Working against Brown, however, was Mrs. Danziger’s identification of Brown as the offender.[10]

Brown was working a short distance from the Danziger business on the day of the crimes. She insisted she never left her workplace that day until the end of the day. She did this routinely, she said, so that she would be available to answer the phone. A co-worker corroborated Brown’s claim with the exception of a 36-minute window of time over lunch. The co-worker also testified that Brown wore a white skirt that day, not a blue jumpsuit as the offender had worn. Records at Brown’s workplace indicated that Brown had clocked in at 8:48 am and out at 4:12 pm. No eyewitness testified seeing Brown enter or exit either Brown’s workplace or the Danziger business.[11]

During the trial, the prosecuting attorney, Norm Kinne, argued that Brown had somehow changed into a blue jumpsuit, left her workplace, committed the crimes, and returned to work within the 36-minute uncorroborated time period. He went further to argue that Denver’s Joyce Ann Brown and Dallas’ Joyce Ann Brown somehow conspired. Kinne called a witness who testified against Brown, claiming that Brown had admitted guilt during a short period when the two women shared a jail cell. Kinne took an additional step to elicit the jurors’ sympathies by emphasizing the Danziger’s history as Holocaust survivors. In the end, Kinne won his conviction.[12]

During Brown’s post-trial fight for freedom, instances of prosecutorial misconduct by Kinne became increasingly evident. A particularly noteworthy instance was a discovery by those working on Brown’s behalf that Kinne had promised the witness who testified against Brown help in exchange for her testimony.[13] During the trial, the witness denied being promised anything of value. Moreover, she and Kinne failed to disclose her prior conviction for lying to a police officer. Soon after the trial, the District Attorney’s office submitted a request for leniency and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles reduced the witness’ sentence for attempted murder. Governor Bill Clements then ordered that the witness’ immediate release.[14]

Renee Taylor, the suspected shooter, remained a fugitive at the time of Brown’s trial. Police arrested Taylor in May of 1981. In an attempt to avoid the death penalty, Taylor pled guilty in the Danziger case. Although she refused to identify her accomplice, she insisted that her accomplice was not the accused Joyce Ann Brown. Taylor was sentenced to life in prison without parole.[15]

By 1984, Brown’s attorney believed there was enough evidence for a new trial. He submitted a motion to a State District judge who then forwarded the evidence to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In December, 1984, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Brown’s appeal. Sometime later, when Centurion Ministries got involved, however, things changed. Jim McCloskey, Centurion’s Chief, was committed to investigating suspicious convictions and, when appropriate, securing exonerations for the wrongfully confused. McCloskey was described as “a hard-driving, hard-talking bulldog of a man who sees his mission on earth not as saving souls from hellfire in the afterlife but from their hells right here on earth.”[16] He found yet another instance of prosecutorial misconduct involving the suppression of evidence. What he found was that Renee Taylor’s criminal record included previously undisclosed robberies that were similar to the Danziger robbery. In 1978, she was one of two black women who robbed a furrier in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was convicted of a similar crime in Denver, Colorado. In the Albuquerque robbery, Taylor’s accomplice was a woman named Lorraine Germany. Both Taylor and Germany admitted guilt. If Brown’s attorney had been provided this evidence, he could have made a powerful argument that Germany was Taylor’s accomplice in the Dallas crimes. Apparently, Brown and Germany were strikingly similar in their appearance and could have easily been mistaken for each other.[17] The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Brown's conviction and granted Brown a retrial. Brown was released on November 3rd, 1989. On Valentine’s Day, 1990, after serving nine years, 25 weeks, and 6 days for a crime she did not commit, prosecutors dropped all charges.[18]

Homicides involving female offenders and exonerations involving accused females are relatively rare. From 1980 to 2008, 11.2 percent of homicides involved female offenders.[19] As of February 26th, 2019, 9 percent of the 2,400 exonerees listed in The National Registry of Exonerations database are female. In Texas, the number is 16 percent of 359.[20]

After her release, Brown refused to formally request a pardon, stating that pardons imply guilt and she was innocent. Because of this refusal, Brown was ineligible for the compensation given to exonerees under Texas law.[21] Brown became an advocate for currently and formerly incarcerated people, eventually founding Mothers for the Advancement of Social Systems to help people freed from prison successfully navigate post-incarceration lives.[22] A Dallas Morning News article described Brown as a person who had a positive attitude and a keen devotion to family as well as to social justice.[23] Brown refused to let the injustice she endured break her spirit.[24]

 

SOURCES:

Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Criminal District Court No. 1 Dallas County 1989): 1-20. http://centurion.org/wp-content/themes/centurion/images/cases/joyce-ann-brown/brown-joyce-application-for-writ.pdf

Bailey, Brad. “Cry of Innocence.” D Magazine, August, 1989. https://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/1989/august/cry-of-innocence

 Bluhm Legal Clinic. “Joyce Ann Brown.” Center for Wrongful Convictions, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/exonerations/tx/joyce-ann-brown.html

 Bureau of Justice Statistics. Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008. Alexia Cooper and Erica L. Smith. NCJ 236018. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, November, 2011. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf

 “Furrier Dies After Robbery.” Dallas Morning News, May 8, 1980. https://www.geneologybank.com

 Centurion. “Joyce Ann Brown.” Accessed September 8, 2018. https://centurion.org/cases/joyce-ann-brown

 Joyce Ann Brown Innocence Clinic. UNT Dallas College of Law. https://lawschool.untdallas.edu/joyce-ann-brown-innocence-clinic

 “Joyce Ann Spencer Brown.” Find A Grave Memorial no. 148203626. Last modified June 23, 2015. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/148203626/joyce-ann-brown

Possley, Maurice. “Joyce Ann Brown.” The National Registry of Exonerations. Last modified June 13, 2015. https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=3061

Simnacher, Joe. “Joyce Ann Brown, Exoneree Who Championed Justice, Dies at 68.” Dallas Morning News, June, 2015. https://www.dallasnews.com/obituaries/obituaries/2015/06/13/joyce-ann-brown-exoneree-who-championed-justice-dies-at-68

The National Registry of Exonerations. “Interactive Data Display.” Last modified February 26, 2019. https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/Exonerations-in-the-United-States-Map.aspx


ENDNOTES

[1] Brad Bailey, “Cry of Innocence,” D Magazine, August, 1989, https://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/1989/august/cry-of-innocence

[2] Maurice Possley, “Joyce Ann Brown,” The National Registry of Exonerations, last modified June 13, 2015, https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=3061

[3] “Furrier Dies After Robbery,” Dallas Morning News, May 8, 1980, https://www.geneologybank.com

[4] Possley, “Joyce Ann Brown.”

[5] “Joyce Ann Brown,” Centurion, accessed September 8, 2018, https://centurion.org/cases/joyce-ann-brown

[6] Possley, “Joyce Ann Brown.”

[7] Bluhm Legal Clinic, “Joyce Ann Brown,” Center on Wrongful Convictions, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/exonerations/tx/joyce-ann-brown.html  “Joyce Ann Spencer Brown,” Find A Grave Memorial no. 148203626, last modified June 23, 2015, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/148203626/joyce-ann-brown

[8] Joe Simnacher, “Joyce Ann Brown, Exoneree Who Championed Justice, Dies at 68,” Dallas Morning News, June, 2015, https://www.dallasnews.com/obituaries/obituaries/2015/06/13/joyce-ann-brown-exoneree-who-championed-justice-dies-at-68

[9] Bluhm Legal Clinic, “Joyce Ann Brown.”

[10] Bailey, “Cry of Innocence.”

[11] Bailey, “Cry of Innocence.”

[12] Bailey, “Cry of Innocence.”

[13] Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Criminal District Court No. 1 Dallas County 1989), 13-14, http://centurion.org/wp-content/themes/centurion/images/cases/joyce-ann-brown/brown-joyce-application-for-writ.pdf

[14] Bluhm Legal Clinic, “Joyce Ann Brown.”

[15] Bluhm Legal Clinic, “Joyce Ann Brown.”

[16] Bailey, “Cry of Innocence.”

[17] Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Criminal District Court No. 1 Dallas County 1989), 11.

[18] Bluhm Legal Clinic, “Joyce Ann Brown.”

[19] Bureau of Justice Statistics, Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008, Alexia Cooper and Erica L. Smith. NCJ 236018, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, November, 2011. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf

[20] The National Registry of Exonerations, “Interactive Data Display,” last modified February 26, 2019, https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/Exonerations-in-the-United-States-Map.aspx

[21] Bluhm Legal Clinic, “Joyce Ann Brown.”

[22] “Joyce Ann Brown,” Centurion. Possley, “Joyce Ann Brown.”

[23] Simnacher, “Joyce Ann Brown, Exoneree Who Championed Justice, Dies at 68.”

[24] Bailey, “Cry of Innocence.”

Cite this Page:

Suzanne Tuckey, PhD, “Joyce Ann Brown, an Unfortunate Name,” Human Rights Dallas Maps, accessed June 25, 2024, https://humanrightsdallasmaps.com/items/show/18.

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