Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Joyce Brown, exonerated after prison, dies at 68

- By Emily Langer The Washington Post

“I sleep 14, 15, 16 hours straight,” Joyce Ann Brown said on national television in 1989 from behind a Plexiglass window, describing one of the few comforts in her life. She was a prison inmate, and would remain one until nine years, five months and 24 days had gone by.

“I don’t have to dream about a crime,” she continued in an interview with the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes” that drew widespread attention. “I don’t have to dream about seeing a man shot down like a dog,” she said, “because I wasn’t there.”

In 1980, Brown was convicted as an accomplice in the armed robbery of a Dallas furrier. One of the shopkeeper­s was murdered. Nearly a decade later, her conviction was overturned in what was widely recognized as an extraordin­ary case of mistaken identity.

Brown, 68, died June13 at a hospital in Dallas. The cause was a heart attack, according to the report of her death published in the Dallas Morning News. For the past 25 years, she had been an advocate for prisoners, former prisoners and the wrongfully accused.

She was born Joyce Ann Spencer on Feb. 12, 1947, in Wills Point, Texas, and grew up in what was described as a poor community in Dallas. She acquired the surname Brown by marriage, perhaps the first in an improbable series of events that helped lead to her conviction.

Brown later found employment as an assistant at a Dallas furrier called Koslow’s. She was on duty May 6, 1980 but clocked out for a reported 36-minute lunch break when a holdup took place at another furrier, Fine Furs by Rubin, about three miles away.

The two assailants, like Brown, were black women. One wore pink pants; another wore a blue jogging outfit, according to an account on the website of Northweste­rn University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic. The women ordered the shopkeeper­s, Holocaust survivors Rubin and Ala Danziger, to fill bags with the shop’s expensive goods.

Rubin Danziger was fatally shot in the confrontat­ion. Ala Danziger survived by telling the intruders that she had cancer and had only weeks to live.

“We’ll just let you suffer,” was the reply.

The assailants left the scene in a 1980 Datsun. The vehicle, it was determined, was a rental car loaned to one Joyce Ann Brown, a detail later published in a local newspaper. When Brown saw her name in print, she reported to the police in an effort to resolve any confusion. Instead, she was arrested.

The jury, which had no black members, convicted Brown despite a lack of physical evidence incriminat­ing her.

In November 1989, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned her conviction.

In 1994, her criminal record stemming from the holdup was expunged.

A complete list of survivors could not immediatel­y be confirmed.

Years after her release, Brown said in a subsequent interview, “I don’t ever want to be caught in that position again.”

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