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Alan Gell and Bad Context

Alan Gell was convicted of a 1995 murder in Aulander, NC.

Dr. MGF Gilliland was the state forensic pathologist in the initial case who made a determination that death occurred between one and two weeks prior to the body being found on April 14, consistent with April 1 to 7 time frame. Gell was in jail after April 6 and probably out of state April 4-5. Conviction was based on April 3 date of murder, but official records are not showing that Gilliland went that far. The April 3 date is based on possibly perjured witness testimony for the most part. Gilliland was influenced by misleading information from the investigating officer in the case to make a conclusion that the death could have occurred on April 3.

Postconviction, Gilliland altered her estimate based on input from the defense team based on body farm and NC State analysis showing house was hot during the early part of April and the state of larvae on the body were consistent with an estimate of April 8 to 10. Eyewitnesses report seeing Jenkins alive on April 10, information that was withheld from the defense in the first trial. The April 8 to 10 time frame for PMI does not quite overlap the original estimate, but it is unknown how well Gilliland testified to the uncertainty in the original PMI estimate. She did mention that she could not account for temperature effects. She also said after the fact that the investigating officer had misdirected her with information saying witnesses made the death at April 3. (definitely got information she shouldn't have that misled her analysis)

2002: Based on new data on the temperature in the Jenkins house and witness statements, Gilliland "is now certain that Jenkins was killed days after April 3."

"Pollard called Dr. M.G.F. Gilliland, the pathologist who had testified at the trial that Jenkins was probably killed between April 3 and April 8. Gilliland explained that her lack of data on the temperatures in Jenkins’ house made it impossible to determine the time of death more precisely."


Noted that Gilliland was not told of 17 witnesses who saw Jenkins alive later than April 3.

"Gilliland has reviewed the work of Arends, the entomologist, and Marks, of the Body Farm. She is in full agreement with them about Jenkins’ time of death."

Gilliland did not testify at the trial.

"Gilliland is rock certain: The murder occurred while Gell was in jail, probably on April 8 or 9."

Confirmation bias affected Gilliland's work through this case.

Initial time-of-death estimate provided a range of dates that were consistent with her estimate in 2002. Her report on larvae was clearly in response to the investigator/prosecutor estimate of April 3 as the day when Gell could have committed the murder. It is not clear whether she conveyed the uncertainties inherent in time-of-death estimates based on larvae growth, especially given her stated lack of information about temperature effects.

Main issues were withholding of relevant evidence by investigators and prosecutors from Gilliland (and defense). Gillaland failure to account for uncertainties related to the temperature of the house postmortem, failure to attempt temperature reconstruction based on known weather data, and failure to collect specimens of maggots/larvae from scene and at autopsy.

4/14/1995 Allen Ray Jenkins found dead, Aulander, Bertie County, North Carolina

6/25/1995 Gell arrested on unrelated charge.

7/31/1995 Gell arrest for Jenkins murder.

3/3/1998 Trial 1, jury conviction, first degree murder, death sentence.

1999 Appeal denied

2002 Bertie County Superior Court finds evidence was withheld and vacated conviction.

2/18/2004 Trial 2, included witnesses seeing Jenkins alive after April 3 and updated time of death estimate. Acquittal.

2009 NCSBI lawsuit settled for $4M.

See my YouTube video on the case:


State v. Gell, 545 S.E.2d 252 (N.C. 1999).

State v. Gell, 351 N.C. 192 (2000). See

Gell v. Town of Aulander, 252 F.R.D. 297 (E.D.N.C. 2008).

Gell v. Town of Aulander, No. 2:05-CV-00021-FL, (E.D.N.C. Jan. 22, 2009).

Clemmons, GH, “Re: Gell v. Ransome, Case No. 2:05-CV-21-FL(1)”, Chesnutt, Clemmons, Peacock & Long, P.A., March 5, 2009.

Miller MT. Eyewitnesses, Physical Evidence, and Forensic Science: A Case Study of State of North Carolina v. James Alan Gell. Victims and Offenders. 2008 May 14;3(2-3):142-9.

Klinkosum M and Bannon B, "Advocating for Those Left Behind: The Need for Discovery Reform in Non-capital Post-conviction Cases," Trial Briefs, Feb. 2005.

"North Carolina Prosecutors Reprimanded For Intentionally Withholding Crucial Exculpatory Evidence in Capital Case," Prison Legal News (Oct. 15, 2005).

"State Pays $3.9 Million for Wrongful Conviction," News and Observer (Nov. 4, 2009).

Neff, Joseph. "For Alan Gell, a wedding that could have happened long ago." News & Observer, February 21, 2015.

Neff, Joseph. "Who killed Alan Ray Jenkins?" News & Observer, December 8, 2002.

Neff, Joseph. "A wtiness, a tangled web." News & Observer, December 9, 2002.

Neff, Joseph. "Gell defense left in dark." News & Observer, December 10, 2002.

Neff, Joseph. "Evidence points to innocence." News & Observer, December 11, 2002.

Neff, Joseph. "Death row inmate granted new trial." News & Observer, December 10, 2002.

Gross E, National Registry of Exonerations, “Alan Gell,” 7/78/2019,

Alan Gell, 20 yo WM, #212

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