An extraordinary crisis of conscience last year prompted two innocence claims filed Friday in the Virginia Court of Appeals for a Covington man convicted of bank robberies.
If Gary Linwood Bush is exonerated of the 2006 Petersburg and Prince George County holdups, it will be thanks to a youngster whose honesty unwittingly inspired the real robber — his grandfather — to turn himself in.
It was only after confessing that Christian Lynn Amos learned that Bush, a man he did not know, was in prison for his crimes.
Reached by telephone this week, Bush said he hopes his name will be cleared by the court and that he ultimately will be awarded wrongful imprisonment compensation from the state.
“I don’t think any amount of money in the world will pay me back for 9½ years,” Bush said. But he added, “Financially, it will definitely help.”
The petitions for writs of actual innocence filed in the Virginia Court of Appeals by the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law contend: “This case is straightforward. Mr. Bush was convicted and sentenced for robberies he did not commit.
“Mr. Amos has now admitted responsibility for both these robberies, indicated that Mr. Bush was not at all involved, and has been convicted and sentenced for one already. By acknowledging Mr. Amos’s guilt, the Commonwealth must now concede Mr. Bush’s innocence,” Bush’s lawyers wrote.
Bush, 68, was living in Prince George County in 2006 and had just retired from 23 years as a machine operator for DuPont when he was caught with cocaine by police. Then, he was charged with the two bank robberies.
He had alibis and always maintained he was innocent. Nevertheless, Bush was convicted by a judge in Prince George and by a jury in Petersburg on eyewitness identifications and sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison.
Then on May 17, 2016, Amos, 63, shamed and inspired by his then 8-year-old grandson, called the Prince George Police Department and said he wanted to confess to three bank robberies he got away with, two in 2006 and one in 2014.
Amos said he decided to confess after his grandson first denied, and then admitted, breaking some windows in a mobile home in his Disputanta neighborhood. Amos walked the boy over to the owner of the mobile home so he could own up to the damage.
“I was just so proud of him ... and it just left me feeling like a hypocrite. I knew that day that I had to turn myself in. I had to. But it still took me a month,” Amos told the Richmond Times-Dispatch earlier this year.
Amos said he was shocked to learn someone had been convicted of the two robberies he committed to finance his heroin addiction.
He said of Bush, “There’s no way I can make it up to him. No way at all.” Amos said that had he known Bush was in prison, he believes he would have come forward sooner.
Amos pleaded guilty to the Prince George robbery, for which Bush was convicted, and to the 2014 robbery in Petersburg and is now serving a 12-year sentence at Nottoway Correctional Center — the judge in Prince George imposed the same total sentence imposed on Bush.
The Petersburg commonwealth’s attorney told The Times-Dispatch earlier this year that she planned to prosecute Amos for the other 2006 robbery that led to the conviction of Bush and which Amos also said he committed.
When the confessions were brought to the attention of the Virginia State Parole Board, Bush was freed last year on geriatric parole and returned home to his family near Covington.
Jennifer L. Givens, with the Innocence Project at the law school, said, “We certainly hope the Court acts quickly to right this wrong. It seems a bit absurd that Mr. Bush has to go through this lengthy process in order to be exonerated, when Mr. Amos has confessed to police, pleaded guilty and is serving time for these crimes.”
The Virginia Attorney General’s Office will respond to the Bush petitions in the court of appeals before the court takes any action.
The Virginia Supreme Court handles petitions for writs of actual innocence based on biological — DNA — evidence, while the Virginia Court of Appeals handles those such as Bush’s that are based on newly discovered, nonbiological evidence.