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Key Witness Tells Of Confusion In Brandley Case

September 29, 1987

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) _ A co-worker of convicted killer Clarence Brandley testified Monday that another high school janitor, not Brandley, abducted a 16-year-old girl who later was found dead.

John Sessum, testifying on the first day of a hearing that could lead to a new trial for Brandley, said Gary Acreman abducted Cheryl Fergeson.

No charges have been filed against Acreman, but prosecutors said they plan to put him on the stand later in the week. Acreman was not at the hearing Monday, and a telephone listing for him could not be found.

Sessum, Acreman and two other men were working with Brandley at Conroe High School on Aug. 23, 1980, the day Miss Fergeson disappeared. The four men were janitors, but Brandley was the only black.

Brandley and janitor Henry Martin ″Ickie″ Peace found Miss Fergeson’s body above a stage in the school auditorium. She had been raped and strangled.

Brandley, who had two execution dates stayed after being convicted by an all-white jury, insists he did not kill Miss Fergeson, who was white.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in July granted this week’s hearing, saying issues raised by defense lawyers should be reviewed in court.

State District Judge Perry Pickett is considering evidence at the hearing that was moved to Galveston after defense lawyers complained witnesses would feel intimidated in Montgomery County.

Acreman ″went up there and was talking to her,″ Sessum said in testimony that contradicted testimony he gave at an earlier trial and hearings. ″I heard her say, ’No. Stop. Don’t 3/8‴

Sessum said he left the area to get a drink of water and had not seen Brandley nearby.

Sessum said Acreman, who still works in the Conroe area, told him that if he was implicated, ″There’d be trouble for me.″ Fear led him to lie each time he spoke with police and each time he appeared in court, Sessum said.

Edward Payne, Acreman’s father-in-law, testified that Acreman told him about the slain girl’s clothing in a trash container before police located the items.

″Nobody knew about it except the police and the killer,″ Payne said. ″It made me think he knew about the actual crime - the way he shook.″

The hearing began Monday when a former co-worker and key witness in the case said he’s been badgered so much by lawyers for both sides that he’s uncertain what to say.

″I’m so confused I don’t know what’s going on,″ Peace, 45, told State District Judge Perry Pickett in the judge’s chambers after refusing initially to answer questions in open court.

Peace’s comments later were read in court by the court reporter.

″Mr. Brandley’s attorneys have come over to tell me what to say without saying,″ said Peace, who said he can neither read nor write. ″They told me how they were going to read their question.

″The district attorney and other people told me I was hallucinating. The DA told me I was hallucinating and imagining things. I’ve taken so many lie detector tests I can take them in my sleep. Both sides are telling me what they want me to say.

″The good Lord knows I’m telling the truth.″

Peace also said he feared for his job as a custodian in the Conroe school district.

″They just let me know jobs can be phased in and out,″ Peace said. As with many of his statements, however, he could not identify the person who told him that.

In testimony he gave previously at Brandley’s trials, Peace said a plainclothes Conroe officer investigating the slaying told him he was not strong enough or tall enough to have attacked and killed the girl.

″He said (Brandley) was tall enough and strong enough and he was elected,″ Peace quoted the unidentified officer as saying.

Peace also complained of intimidation y a Texas Ranger investigating the case and of Conroe police forcing him to sign a statement even though he could not read or write.

Mike DeGeurin, Brandley’s attorney, said Peace’s testimony did not suprise him. ″I don’t blame him,″ he said. ″He was angry.″

District Attorney Peter Speers said he would not comment immediately.

DeGeurin has said he would call about 30 witnesses during the hearing, which is expected to take at least a week.

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