Death Row Inmate Says He's Innocent, and Winfrey Agrees

Court's decision on Jarvis Jay Masters' appeal is expected any day
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2022 6:30 PM CDT
Buoyed by Winfrey's Support, Death Row Inmate Awaits Ruling
A guard tower is seen at San Quentin State Prison on April 12, 2022, in San Quentin, Calif. Jarvis Jay Masters is on death row there for the 1985 murder of corrections officer Hal Burchfield. Masters is awaiting a decision from a federal court on his most recent appeal.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

This isn't the first time Jarvis Jay Masters has been forced to wait while a judge decides his fate. According to Kevin Rector of the Los Angeles Times, Masters has launched several unsuccessful appeals to overturn his conviction and death sentence for the 1985 murder of corrections officer Hal Burchfield. This time, however, things feel different. For one, Masters' case is being considered at the federal level for the first time. Moreover, Oprah Winfrey picked up Masters' cause in September when she featured his 2009 autobiography, and though she previously "avoided making definitive pronouncements about the facts in the case," Winfrey told Rector that she "absolutely" believes Masters is innocent.

Masters has a lot of supporters out there, including some of Sgt. Burchfield's own children, one of whom says he felt relieved by news of his abusive father's death. There's no question Burchfield was stabbed by a different inmate, who was convicted and received life in prison. Masters was accused of making the murder weapon, but he always professed his innocence. Much of the case hinges on a series of "kites," or notes inmates throw back and forth between cells. Masters says a Black Guerrilla Family gang leader forced him to copy notes detailing the murder. Those notes were later used against Masters, but there's evidence suggesting the gang leader simply set Masters up for the fall. Furthermore, numerous inmates have since recanted testimony used to convict Masters, now 60 and a devoted Buddhist. He says his beliefs help him maintain a comfortable "middle" mentality as he awaits the decision, which could come any day. Read the whole story here. (More Oprah Winfrey stories.)

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