Jack Alderman had just finished his plate of spaghetti bolognese and refilled his dinner companion's glass, when police walked into the restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, on the evening of September 5, 1974, and charged him with the murder of his wife.
The 21-year-old supermarket worker looked genuinely devastated and seemed speechless with shock. Later at police headquarters he admitted he'd had "a few words" with his 20-year-old wife Barbara Jean, that evening and she had gone to her grandmother's house "to cool off."
He had gone for an Italian meal with a friend and intended to pick up Barbara Jean later on and "make it up to her" and maybe get her a present. We love each other," he told detectives. "I would never hurt her."
It was a story that Jack Alderman would obstinately stick to for the next 34 years and which would make him the longest serving prisoner on America's death row.
He spent the time in a cage measuring two yards by three - and every day he protested his innocence. And when, in September, 2008, Alderman, then 55, was executed by lethal injection his last words were: "I want you to know I never harmed my darling wife."
For more than three decades his lawyers had urged Jack Alderman to admit to the crime, plea-bargain — and save his life. He would then have been jailed and almost certainly released on parole after a few years.
But Alderman always refused to bargain. "There's no point in lying," he told his legal team, who campaigned free of charge for his release. "We must have values and I'm prepared to die for mine. All they can do is kill me — they can't break me."
Attorney Michael Siem, who was with him when he died, said that Alderman had been a model prisoner and had been a valued mentor and peace-maker to other inmates, but this had not been enough to win him clemency under the Georgia judicial system.
The case against Alderman had been based on the testimony of a local drug-dealer, John Arthur Brown, who claimed that Alderman had asked him to help him kill his wife and he had done so by smashing Barbara Jean's head with an iron bar.
Brown pleaded guilty to murder and got a prison sentence after testifying against Jack Alderman. He was released after 12 years, returned to his drug habit and committed suicide in New York in 2000.
It was in September 1972 that two teenage boys cycling along the edge of Dasher's Creek near Savannah saw a car in the water. The driver's door was open and the youngsters waded through the waist-deep current to see if anyone was in the vehicle.
A young woman was crouched behind the steering wheel. The rescuers tugged her free and pulled her to the bank but they knew instinctively that she was dead.
Called to the scene, it was obvious to Sheriff Jim Fulcher and his deputy Dave Randall that this was no accident — there was no way the Pontiac could have swerved out of control and wedged itself through such a narrow gap between two sturdy black gum trees.
The car was registered to Jack and Barbara Jean Alderman but when police called at their address in Savannah no one was home. Working on the assumption that the body was that of Barbara Jean, detectives discovered she worked for the city of Savannah's treasurer's department and had been raised by her grandmother whose home was less than a mile from Dasher's Creek.
Pathologists found a wound at the base of Barbara's skull but that wouldn't have killed her. Death was actually by drowning and experts were convinced that the "accident" had been staged. When found enjoying a meal in the Italian restaurant, Jack Alderman was asked to identify the body. "When the sheet was pulled b
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