James Adams (Florida)  Case Summary Chart


On May 10, 1984, the State of Florida, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed James Adams in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Adams’s right to a fair and impartial trial. The unfair and racially discriminatory trial resulted in Adams’s execution.


On the morning of November 12, 1973 at approximately 10:30 a.m., Edgar Brown was beaten with a fire poker in the course of an alleged robbery in his home. He died in the hospital the next day as a result of the beating. Adams was arrested, tried, and convicted of his murder.

Salient Issues


James Adams was convicted of capital murder on circumstantial evidence and on evidence that was contradictory. On the morning of the crime, Adams’s car had been seen traveling to and from the victim’s house and had been parked in the victim’s driveway. One witness reported that he thought Adams was driving the car towards the victim’s house shortly before the robbery and assault. A second witness positively identified Adams as the driver of the car seen leaving the victim’s home. This witness reportedly stated that he would testify against Adams because he believed that Adams was having an affair with his wife. However, the only witness to see a person leaving the victim’s house at the approximate time of the crime provided a description that did not fit Adams. After viewing a police line-up in which Adams was included, this witness was "positive" that Adams was not the person with whom he spoke. At trial, the same witness who could not pick Adams out of a lineup testified that Adams may or may not have been the person he saw leaving the house.

Adams said he was at the house of a friend, Vivian Nickerson, from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. on the day of the murder. Nickerson initially confirmed Adams’s alibi and stated that she had borrowed Adams’s car before 10:30 a.m. At trial, she changed her testimony to say that Adams did not arrive at her house before 11:00 a.m. Adams’s attorney did not question the inconsistency of her statements. Although the state crime lab found that strands of hair on the victim were not from Adams, the crime lab report was not released until three days after the trial.

Race was a factor throughout the trial. During the trial, both the prosecution and the defense referred to Adams as "nigger." The prosecution repeatedly raised Adams’s prior conviction for rape in terms of the race of the victim. The fact that Adams had raped a white woman – not that he had merely committed rape – was the aggravating circumstance used by the state to secure a sentence of death, despite the fact that Adams had never before been convicted of a crime punishable by death.


The Florida Supreme Court upheld Adams’s sentence in December 1976, and certiorari was denied on October 3, 1977. He received a stay of execution by the Florida Supreme Court in April 1978. The U.S. Supreme Court continued his stay so he could file his writ of certiorari, which was denied October 30, 1978. He had a clemency hearing November 5, 1979. His first death warrant was signed January 9, 1980. The Florida Supreme Court denied a stay, but he obtained one from the Southern District Court in February of 1980. His writ was denied in an unpublished opinion, and in July of 1983 the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial. On January 11, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, and on April 12, 1984, his second death warrant was signed. All relief was then denied in the courts, and on May 9, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated his stay. He was executed the next day.


James Adams was executed despite undisputed evidence of racial discrimination and compelling evidence of innocence. James Adams did not receive a fair trial. His court-appointed lawyers failed to lodge a competent defense, the state withheld evidence, and both the prosecution and defense were racially-biased and used racist remarks, which served to bias the jury. Nonetheless, by denying all appeals, both state and federal appeals courts upheld both Adams’s conviction and his death sentence.

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