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NewsChannel 5 Investigates:

Philip Workman Case

Part 1: Questions haunt case as execution nears

For Philip Ray Workman, time is running out.

For more than two decades, Workman has sat on Tennessee's Death Row. Now, with his appeals at their end, Workman could soon be executed -- despite evidence that, some say, points to his innocence.

He is currently scheduled to be executed Sept. 24, 2003.

"I've always said I'm here for killing a man, but I've never seen a dead man," Workman tells NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

Workman was sentenced to death for shooting and killing a Memphis police officer in August 1981. The shooting occurred as Workman tried to get away after robbing a Wendy's restaurant. Officers attempted to apprehend him as he left the restaurant. He fired his gun.

While Workman ran, a veteran Memphis police officer, Lt. Ronald Oliver, lay dying from a gunshot wound.

Comrades of the fallen officer built what appeared to be an airtight case against Workman. A jury convicted him of murder and sentenced him to die in the electric chair.

But, now, NewsChannel 5 has discovered there are serious questions about the case against Workman.

Among them:

  • Could a bullet from Workman's gun have caused the injuries suffered by Lt. Oliver? Two well-known pathologists now doubt the official theory. If not, who did fire the fatal shot?
  • Why did no one see a key government witness who claims he was in the middle of the crime scene? Did police pressure him to lie, as he now claims?
  • Were other police officers also firing their weapons, as other civilian witnesses claim? If so, why would they lie about the shooting during Workman's trial?

"I believe the state of Tennessee is about to execute an innocent man," says Workman's lawyer, Jefferson Dorsey.

However, retired Memphis police officer Aubrey Stoddard, who was shot in the encounter with Workman, disputes that notion.

"If they'd let me, I'd be the one that would pull the switch," Stoddard says.

Philip Workman admits, morally speaking, he's not an innocent man - that he created the circumstances that led to the police officer's death.

He argues, however, he did not fire the fatal shot - and, as result, he's not guilty of the capital offense that landed him on Death Row.

Two versions of events

Workman, who says he was strung out on cocaine the night of the shooting, admits he robbed the Wendy's restaurant with a loaded .45 caliber pistol. Inside, one of the employees triggered a silent alarm that summoned police.

Lt. Oliver arrived first, followed by patrolmen Stoddard and Steve Parker. As Workman attempted to flee, Oliver and Stoddard grabbed him. What happened next isn't clear.

Stoddard says he grabbed Workman around his neck, facing him. Oliver had him from behind.

"I looked down and he was holding a .45 right between my belly and his," Stoddard recalls. "I started to say, he's got a gun. Before I could say two words, he shot me."

A bullet ripped through Stoddard's right arm. He says Workman fired another shot at him as he was falling.

It was only after that second shot, Stoddard says, that Oliver was hit. But the veteran officer says he had spun around and did not see it.

"He just kept shooting. I heard it, but I didn't see it," Stoddard says. Police say Oliver returned fire and emptied his six-shot revolver before collapsing.

But Workman tells a different story.

"I see no way I could have shot Lt. Oliver," Workman says today. "I was in the process of going back up above my head with the weapon in an act of surrender when I got hit in the head. I know that shot went up in the air."

Then, Workman says he saw a "flash" -- possibly the muzzle blast of a gun -- and fired a shot in return. Workman's lawyers theorize the second shot was the one that hit Stoddard.

Stoddard denies striking Workman in the head, causing him to discharge his weapon.

But witness Garvin Null says, in a sworn affidavit, he saw "Stoddard hit the white male in the head with a flashlight." Several witnesses also say Workman was holding his head as he ran from the crime scene.

The police officer who apprehended Workman also noted he had "blood on his face" from an "earlier encounter." In addition, Workman was treated at a Memphis hospital for head injuries, and photos taken by police document those injuries.

Parker's version of events

A third officer, Steve Parker, says he was on the opposite side of the Wendy's and ran to the aid of his fellow officers when he heard gunshots.

The night of the shooting, Parker told investigators that -- as he rounded the front of the building -- Lt. Oliver had already been shot and then he saw Workman shoot Stoddard.

But, at Workman's trial, Parker changed his story.

He testified that, after talking with Stoddard, he realized his fellow patrolman had already been shot during the first volley and his impressions of what he witnessed were wrong.

Still, Parker says he witnessed that second shot described by Stoddard. Even then, according to Parker's story, Lt. Oliver had already been shot and was on the ground.

Parker says Workman then ran and turned around to fire another shot at him. As Workman again tried to run away, he tripped and accidentally fired another shot in the air.

Evidence at crime scene
While Stoddard and Parker say they saw Workman fire a total of four shots - and the government says he also fired a fifth one that struck Lt. Oliver -- investigators who scoured the crime scene only discovered three bullet casings from Workman's gun.

Prosecutors say the crime scene probably was contaminated in the first chaotic minutes of the shooting. But Workman's lawyers argue that it's evidence that someone else fired the fatal shot.

"If you look at the shell casings," Workman says, "the evidence -- according to what they say I'm supposed to have done -- it's not there."

(Story created: 10/1/99)

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