Sister of freed inmate accused of threatening to kill witness


by staff

Posted on October 28, 2011 at 2:11 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 28 at 2:38 PM

HOUSTON – The sister of Ernest Sonnier—an inmate who was freed from prison after serving 23 years for a rape and kidnapping he may not have committed, only to be re-arrested two years later on an indecent exposure charge—is now accused of threatening to kill a witness to the incident.

Joann Sonnier Bingham, 46, is charged with felony retaliation.

According to court documents, Bingham threatened to assault and kill a convenience store clerk – the same woman who told police in August that Ernest Sonnier had exposed himself at her store.

Back in August, the clerk told investigators she was working at the store, located in the 8300 block of Sultan Drive, when Sonnier entered, looked at some items in an aisle and then started staring at her, licking his lips in a provocative manner.

The clerk told police Sonnier said, "I want you baby," then exposed himself and committed a lewd act.

She said she was so shocked and afraid, she started to cry.

Sonnier turned himself in to police on September 1, and has remained behind bars ever since.

But court documents state that on September 2, Bingham went to the store where the clerk was working and threatened her. The clerk said Bingham cursed at her and threatened to kill her for turning Sonnier in.

The clerk recorded the confrontation on her cell phone, and turned that over to police.

Investigators eventually linked the incident to Bingham, and when they presented a photo lineup to the clerk that included Bingham’s picture, the clerk picked her out as the woman who had threatened her.

Charges were filed against Bingham on October 26. She was arrested the following day.

Ernest Sonnier made headlines in 2009, when he was released from prison after serving 23 years for a rape and kidnapping he may not have committed.

The Innocence Project shed doubt on his conviction after they conducted DNA testing they said proved Sonnier did not commit the crime.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office agreed to release Sonnier from prison, while they conducted their own DNA testing in the case.

But then, after he was charged with indecent exposure, they revoked that conditional release.

On September 1, before he turned himself in, Sonnier insisted that the incident with the store clerk was just a misunderstanding, and that he was being set up.

"He said he explained to law enforcement that he was not attempting to do anything with the lady, that he was only flirting with the lady, that maybe she took it out of context," activist Quanell X, who accompanied Sonnier to jail that day, said.

Sonnier is set to appear in court again in November.

Bingham is set to appear in court on the retaliation charge on October 31.