Real Name: Michael Scott Martin
Location: Garland, Texas
Date: July 14, 1979
Details: At 7pm on July 14, 1979, a man entered a gas station office in Garland, Texas, and drew a gun on Doyle, the eighteen-year-old attendant, who was closing up for the day. He struck Doyle with the gun and threatened to kill him if he did not comply. He took $400 and taped Doyle's hands behind his back. The incident took about ten minutes. Doyle's key eyewitness testimony would eventually put a man in prison for life. He feels that the traumatic experience will stick with him for the rest of his life. He also does not believe he will ever forget the man who did it. He identified his attacker as Michael Scott Martin, a twenty-six-year-old welder. Five other witnesses, however, swore that Michael could not have robbed the gas station. They claim he spent the whole day at his home at Lake Worth, seventy miles away.
Michael was arrested, tried, and convicted of armed robbery. Because of a previous arrest, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole until 1999. He has already served eight years and still maintains his innocence. He feels like he is about to give up because he has run out of options. He has went all the way to the Supreme Court fighting his conviction. He hopes and prays that, one day, he will be able to prove his innocence.
The case against Michael was based entirely on eyewitness identification that placed him at the scene of the crime. There was never any physical evidence connecting him to the robbery. No fingerprints were found. The money was never recovered. And the gun still has not been located. He insists that he has been wrongly imprisoned.
Michael had a clean record until he was twenty-six. In early 1979, seven months before the gas station robbery, he was arrested after an altercation in a supermarket. He and a friend had been drinking and were seen eating polish sausage and potato chips from the supermarket's shelves. When the manager threatened to call the police, Michael panicked and threw some money on the counter. The incident escalated into violence when he pulled out a knife and threatened the employees.
Michael is not sure why he pulled the knife; he believes it may have been a desire to get away from the manager and get out of there. He also believes that alcohol impaired his judgement. After he and his friend fled the store, they went to his car. He then pulled out a gun and fired several shots into the air. He claims that he fired the shots over their heads and did not intend to hurt anyone. He claims it was an "adolescent stunt" that he never should have done. Detective Dennis Wheatley, however, felt that the incident was serious and not a "prank". Former prosecutor Brad Lollar did not understand why he went to that length to avoid paying for food.
Michael pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon. He was fined and given four years probation. Then, on July 14, 1979, just two weeks after his probation began, the gas station was robbed. The gunman stole over $400 and fled the scene of the crime in Doyle's car. Fifteen minutes later, at 7:15pm, a police unit spotted the stolen car outside of the Willow Apartments, a nearby apartment building, where Michael had lived until only a month before. At approximately 7:25pm, Detective Wheatley, who had investigated the supermarket incident, claims he saw Michael in his blue Camaro, three blocks from the gas station. The two crossed paths at an intersection where Wheatley was making a left turn. He was certain that it was Michael.
Wheatley asked to be assigned to the robbery case. He suspected that Michael may have been involved. The following day, he showed Doyle a series of mugshots. Doyle picked out Michael almost immediately. However, he initially said he "thought" Michael was the gunman. When Wheatley asked him, "You think he's the man or you're sure he's the man?" he said he was "sure" he was the gunman. Wheatley felt that he was a great witness for the case. Michael was arrested, charged with aggravated robbery, and held without bail. He was sure that he would be able to prove his innocence, especially with the witnesses he had that would prove he was not in Garland.
Michael claimed he was at Lake Worth, seventy miles away from Garland, at the time of the robbery. Five separate witnesses, three of whom hardly knew him, substantiated his claim. Their testimony was the crux of his defense. George MacFarlane claims that on the day of the robbery, he was working on his car while Michael worked on his motorcycle. The only time Michael was not there that day was when he left between 2 and 4pm to get parts. According to Yvonne Ansley, Michael was there with her and George at the time of the robbery.
When Jack Grissom left his house that day between 6 and 6:30pm, he saw Michael outside of his house, working on his motorcycle. They waved to each other and Jack left. He was surprised to learn that Michael was arrested, since he had seen him so close to the time of the robbery. Michael Pettigrew saw him at around 6pm. He knows that there would be no way for him to drive from Lake Worth to Garland within an hour. George recalls that he wanted to watch "Battlestar Galactica" that night, which started at 7pm. He, Yvonne, and Michael Martin all watched it together that night. Obviously, it would be impossible for him to be robbing the gas station at that same time.
Michael's trial hinged on the issue of who the jury would believe: the two prosecution eyewitnesses or the five defense witnesses. The trial was held in the same courtroom where two months previously, he had received his probation. The turning point came when his supermarket conviction was admitted into the court record, possibly prejudicing the jury against him. Prosecutor Brad Lollar is not sure if they would have gotten a guilty verdict in the robbery case if the jury had not known about the supermarket incident. He believes that it influenced the jury. He knows that his witnesses were positive in their testimony. He also knows that the defense witnesses were positive in their testimony.
It took the jury only fifteen minutes to find Michael guilty of armed robbery. They gave him the maximum sentence possible under the law. He has to do twenty years before he can be paroled. He does not believe that he received a fair trial or sentence. Lollar notes that if a person is on probation for a felony offense and goes out and commits an aggravated robbery like the one Michael was convicted of, he has no problem with him serving a life sentence -- if he is guilty.
"If he is guilty" -- those words have troubled Lollar for nine years. Could the jury have put a man behind bars who was innocent? It has always bothered him that they were not able to come up with "the clincher" in the case. There were no fingerprints found at the scene or on the getaway car. There was no recovery of the stolen items. There was nothing that conclusively tied Michael to the robbery, besides the eyewitness testimony. For that reason, Lollar has always had a bit of doubt left in his mind about the case.
Doyle is still sure that he put the right man in jail. George points out that it would not make sense why five people, three of whom barely knew Michael, would lie in a court of law to protect him. At the time, Lollar leaned towards believing Michael was guilty. Now, he is not so sure. He thought Doyle was positive in his identification, but also, Michael's witnesses were positive that they were with him at the time of the robbery seventy miles away. He feels that it is one of those cases that they will never know the true answer.
Michael still has eleven more years to serve in prison. The groundswell of doubt about his guilt has had no effect. He has never stopped trying to prove his innocence because he is not sure what else he has to do, other than sit in prison. He says that he can really appreciate what freedom is, now that it has been taken away from him. He wants that back and hopes that someone can help him prove his innocence.
Michael is running out of hope; he has exhausted all of his appeals and has no legal options left. Yet, he still maintains his innocence and believes that the man who committed the robbery has gotten away scot-free.
- This case appeared in Special #5, which aired on February 5, 1988.
- Doyle appeared in silhouette for the broadcast and his full name was not revealed.
- Interestingly, it was reported that Michael's five alibi witnesses took polygraph examinations and they all failed.
Results: Unresolved. In 1999, Michael Martin was released from prison. However, he will remain on parole for the rest of his life. He still hopes to prove his innocence.
- Martin v. State - November 4, 1981
- High Court Proceedings - November 6, 1981
- Michael Scott Martin v. Texas Department of Corrections - August 13, 1986
- Some of the Best ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ Episodes Led to Arrests — Many Others Didn’t - June 13, 2018
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Michael Scott Martin (includes article)