At the end of the 1980s, dozens of multi-state murders of Native American women had authorities stumped. In Minneapolis, three women had been beaten to death, their bodies left naked and posed in a way that suggested they were victims of a serial killer.
Police zeroed in on 43-year-old Billy Glaze, a drifter with a 1974 rape conviction who was found to have been in the general vicinity of several killings around the time they occurred. Though he was investigated in connection with some 50 murders around the country, he was ultimately convicted for the three in Minneapolis after prosecutors produced evidence that he had made derogatory comments about Native American women and fantastized about sexually mutilating them.
Prosecutors also argued that he'd given his girlfriend a ring that belonged to one of the victims, and that shoe prints found at one murder scene were consistent with his. (However, the mother of the victim denied the ring belonged to her daughter, and the state never produced Glaze's shoes.)
But all that was before DNA testing.
In 2007 after the technology became available, Glaze requested DNA testing of evidence found at the crime scenes. The tests took seven years to complete, but nothing matched Glaze. Instead, swabs collected from two of the murders led to another man who'd been convicted for raping a Native American woman in 1989.
Additionally, a key prosecution witness recanted his testimony.
The Innocence Project of Minnesota fought for a new trial, but Glaze succumbed to lung cancer, dying in 2015 at 72 years old. Before he died, he left a will naming the Innocence Project's Debra Kovats representative of his estate and stating that it was his dying wish to have his name cleared.
Kovats was appointed as Glaze's representative by the probate court, and Glaze's attorneys asked both the district court and the Minnesota Supreme Court to substitute her on his appeal. Neither court ruled on that matter.
Instead, the district court dismissed Glaze's petition, and on Wednesday the Supreme Court affirmed, finding his case was moot, as he could no longer benefit from a review. His attorneys could not file on his behalf, the court decided, because their relationship with Glaze ended with his death, and they do not have a personal stake in whether he is innocent or not.
Only Kovats has the right to petition for Glaze, the Supreme Court concluded in a ruling that makes no mention of her affidavit declaring that she authorized the appeal.
“Although we have great respect for the Minnesota Supreme Court, we were very disappointed with the court’s decision to dismiss the appeal," said Glaze's attorney Edward Magarian on Wednesday.
"In the end, technicalities won out not only over the life of a man who spent nearly three decades in prison for multiple murders he did not commit, but over the victims whose killer has never been brought to justice.”