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Woman Freed After Serving 10 Months for Burglary She Didn’t Commit

April 15, 1995

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ This is a story of two women with long blond hair who, in the words of one detective, ``look so much alike it’s unbelievable.″ One of them just spent 10 months in prison for a crime that police now believe was committed by the other.

Mellissa Gammill was freed Friday, the day after a judge threw out her conviction and 10-year sentence for burglary. Darron Terry, who first identified her from a mug shot as the woman who burglarized his house in December 1993, told the judge he had identified the wrong person.

``It was certainly a case of mistaken identity. These people look so much alike it’s unbelievable,″ said Deputy Chief Jimmy Houston, chief of detectives.

Gammill’s family greeted her at the prison; she did not speak to reporters. Her lawyer, Debra Allen, said Gammill plans to spend time with an ill grandfather.

``Nobody had any reason to believe there was a lookalike burglar. It was a fluke,″ said Allen. ``She never felt forgotten. The family never gave up.″

The new suspect, Pamela Mechea Bailey, has not been charged; she already is imprisoned in an unrelated case, Houston said. Bailey is 27, Gammill 26.

Gammill was a carefree single working at a mall food court when she was fingered in the burglary, her lawyer said. Gammill’s mug shot had been taken when she was with a group of lawbreakers, but she was never convicted of any criminal charges, her lawyer said.

In addition to the testimony by Terry that she was the woman he saw burglarizing his house, she had another big strike against her: She couldn’t remember where she had been the night of the burglary, three months before the arrest.

``She didn’t have an alibi available that far after the fact. She doesn’t have a family that would make up a story. They’re not that kind of people,″ said Allen. ``They were sort of stumped ... wracking their brains wondering what to do.″

The night before Gammill’s one-day trial on June 15 before a Hinds County jury, her attorney suspected there may have been a lookalike but was unable to win a delay in the proceeding.

Despite her personal plea to the jury, Gammill was convicted and given the 10-year sentence.

Allen continued pursuing the lead that a similar-looking woman might have been the burglar, eventually leading to Thursday’s hearing and vindication for Gammill.

``The bottom line is most people who are convicted are guilty. But there are mistakes. Thank God there was a procedure to find the mistake and correct it,″ Allen said. She did not know if Gammill would consider a civil lawsuit.

``Mellissa’s attitude is `They let me out, it’s over with, nobody knows of any conspiracy or plot,‴ Allen said. ``She just wants to put it behind her.″

Oddly, the two women were in the same place the past few months but never met. In January, Bailey began serving three years for forgery in the Central Mississippi Corrections Facility outside Jackson, the prison where Gammill was held.

Police said they haven’t decided whether to charge Bailey who, according to Allen, is ill and is being treated in a separate wing of the minimum-security prison.