Delbert Tibbs

Delbert Tibbs

Delbert Tibbs is an American man who was wrongfully convicted of murder and rape in 1974 and sentenced to death, and was later exonerated. He later became a writer and anti-death penalty activist.


Early life and trial

Tibbs was born in Mississippi and grew up in Chicago. He attended the Chicago Theological Seminary from 1970 to 1972. In 1974, he was hitchhiking in Florida when he was wrongfully implicated in a crime for which he would receive the death penalty.[1]

That year, a 27-year-old man and a 17-year-old female were violently attacked near Fort Myers, Florida. The man was murdered and the young woman raped. She reported that they had been picked up while hitchhiking by a black man who shot her boyfriend dead and then beat and raped her, leaving her unconscious by the side of the road. Tibbs was stopped by police some 220 miles north of Fort Meyers and questioned about the crime. The police took his picture, but as he did not fit the victim's description of the perpetrator, did not arrest him. However, the photograph was sent to Fort Meyers and the victim identified him as the attacker. A judge then issued a warrant for Tibbs' arrest. He was picked up in Mississippi two weeks later and sent to Florida.[1]

Though Tibbs had an alibi, he was indicted for the crimes. During the trial, the prosecution supplemented the victim's identification with testimony from a jailhouse informant who claimed Tibbs had confessed to the crime. The all-white jury convicted Tibbs of murder and rape and he was sentenced to death.[1]

After the trial, the informant recanted his testimony, saying he had fabricated his account hoping for leniency in his own rape case. The Florida Supreme Court remanded the case and reversed the decision on the grounds that verdict was not supported by the evidence. Tibbs was released in January 1977. In 1982, the Lee County State Attorney dismissed all charges, ending the chance of a retrial.[1]


A portion of Tibbs' story is featured in the play The Exonerated. On February 14, 2011 Tibbs, along with fellow exonerees and anti-death penalty activists, spoke with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn about repealing the death penalty in their state.[2][3] A month later, on March 14, 2011, the death penalty was repealed in Illinois.[4][5]

Tibbs is the author of "Selected Poems and Other Words/Works", Edited by O'Modele Jeanette Rouselle, Copyright 2007, Printed by The Manifestation-Glow Press New York City October 2007. His poetry also appears in the chapbook anthology "Beccaria", edited by poet Aja Beech released on April 22, 2011.[6]


External links

  • Singer/songwriter Pete Seeger wrote a song entitled "Delbert Tibbs" [1]
  • Delbert Tibbs bio at Witness to Innocence [2]
  • excerpt from Studs Terkel's book "Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith." [3]

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