The one hour broadcast of ‘NBC Dateline’s: The Long Road to Freedom’ depicts the struggle of two brothers as they fight, for over two decades, to prove their innocence for the separate crimes they didn’t commit. One of them was Corey Atchison, who was convicted for the murder of James Warren Lane. Exploring the justice system and how it treats Black Americans, this episode is the perfect watch, especially with the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.
How did James Warren Lane Die?
In the middle of the night on August 3, 1990, James, a 29-year-old small-time drug dealer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was shot and killed on the sidewalk. Since the shooting occurred near 4th and Atlanta, a place not known for its gentry, but for its poverty, gang rivalries, drug users, and prostitutes, the whole situation wasn’t very new for the police or the people in that neighborhood.
As James was shot once, in close range, with the bullet going straight to his chest, it was speculated that he was fatally killed during an attempted robbery gone wrong. But, as it was still first-degree murder, the police did everything they could to make an arrest and give James the justice he deserved. The “everything they could do,” unfortunately, meant coercion and deceit.
Who Killed James Warren Lane?
Corey “Cheese” Atchison, who had affiliations with a gang, was arrested for the shooting six months after it had happened, and a year later he was sentenced to spend his life in prison. There was a witness, Doane Thomas, from Corey’s rival gang, who claimed to have seen Corey pull the trigger and murder James, so the Jury had no choice but to convict him.
The truth, though, was very different. Corey was driving around in his car with three friends when he heard a gunshot go off, and when he rounded the street he saw a man, James, who he didn’t know, lying on the ground. Corey had shouted for the people around to call 911 and stayed there until the police arrived, who then approached and searched him and his friends.
At that point, Corey wasn’t treated as a suspect and was let go. But in early 1991, he was asked to give a statement, and a day later, a warrant for his arrest was issued. Yet, Corey always claimed to be innocent. And when, in 2017, the key witness recanted his testimony, Corey asked for another hearing. Benjamin King, who was also a suspect for James’s murder, and had testified against Corey also recanted his statement, admitting that he never saw him kill James.
Stephanie Harris was the one who saw the shooting, but even as a key witness, she was never called upon during Corey’s initial trial. She said that even though she never saw the shooters face, she vividly remembers that it was a “short” man, about 5-foot-5, and slim. So, Corey, who was 6-foot-2 and weighed near 220 lbs in 1990 could in no way be the killer. With her statement and the other witnesses’ admission to being coerced by the police into giving false testimonies, Corey was given back his freedom after 28 years in jail.
Unfortunately, even though the truth of Corey’s innocence came out, it meant that James Warren Lane’s murder remains unsolved and that his real killer, the one who so heartlessly pulled the trigger and ran away, is still on the loose. As there have been no other leads or suspects in the shooting that occurred in 1990, James’s killer’s real identity is still a mystery. (Featured Image Credit: Mike Simons / Tulsa World / AP)
Read More: Where Is Corey Atchison Now?