Posts Tagged ‘Retrial’

Florida Supreme Court Grants Re-trial for Death Row Case

Alejandra de la Fuente — October 28, 2016 @ 4:42 PM — Comments (0)


In a unanimous decision, the Florida Supreme Court has vacated the conviction of Clemente Aguirre based on DNA evidence that points towards another suspect for the murder of Cheryl and Carol Williams in 2004.

Aguirre was convicted in 2006 for the double homicide after the prosecution found that 64 out of 67 bloody shoe impressions found inside the victims’ residence matched Aguirre’s footwear. In addition, forensic evidence showed that his clothes contained traces of blood that belonged to both Cheryl and Carol Williams. However, Aguirre has maintained his innocence and testified that he had found the bodies while trying to take some beer from his neighbor’s house. He attempted to revive Cheryl Williams and, once he was unsuccessful, ran without calling the police because he is currently an illegal immigrant who could face deportation.

After being denied by a circuit court on his appeal, the Florida Supreme Court has found that they “agree with Aguirre that the cumulative effect of the newly discovered evidence requires a new trial.” At the postconviction evidentiary hearing, Aguirre and his legal team showed that on 150 previously untested bloodstains from the crime scene, his blood was not present. Additionally, it showed that eight of the bloodstains matched someone else entirely: Samantha Williams, Cheryl’s daughter. Samantha had testified at Aguirre’s trial stating that she had found him “standing over her bed” at 2AM months before the murders. In addition, it was her boyfriend who found the bodies and was also her alibi, even though he testified that at the time of the murders he was “dead to the world” asleep.

However, the newly discovered evidence was not simply limited to the presence of Samantha’s blood at the crime scene. There is also proof that Samantha Williams also confessed to the double homicide to four different people.

The Florida Supreme Court’s opinion specifies that Samantha told her friend in 2010 that “demons in her head made her do it.” She also confessed to three of her former neighbors (in three separate instances) to the crime. While the State stated that her confessions were inadmissible as hearsay, the Supreme Court ruled that “the trial court erred by excluding … the testimony of three witnesses that another person had admitted, on three separate occasions, to committing the murder of which the defendant was convicted.”

The Court concluded their decision by stating that “adding the newly discovered evidence to the pictures changes the focus entirely: No longer is Aguirre the creepy figure who appears over Samantha’s bed in the middle of the night; he is now the scapegoat for her crimes.” Because of the reasonable doubt this casts over Aguirre’s culpability, he will receive a re-trial.

To read the Florida Supreme Court’s full opinion, click here.



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Original Witness Testimonies that were Later Recanted will be Admissible in Murder Retrial

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 16, 2016 @ 8:48 AM — Comments (0)

A Criminal District Court Judge ruled on Monday, April 4, that trial transcripts from Jerome Morgan’s first murder trial would be admissible during his new trial next month. Morgan has served 20 years in Angola prison for the 1993 murder of a 17-year-old boy. He maintains his innocence of the crime in which Clarence Landry III was killed during a birthday party at a New Orleans East hotel.

The transcripts include the testimony of Hakim Shabazz and Kevin Johnson, who were teenagers at the time of Morgan’s conviction. Both men recanted in October 2013 during a post-conviction hearing, however, and the recantations will also be permitted during the retrial. Shabazz and Johnson testified that police and others pressured and coerced them into identifying Morgan as Landry’s killer.

In an Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office bill of information, the witnesses were charged with perjury in January 2015 for their “inconsistent statements.” They are scheduled to appear in court on May 18, facing up to 40 years in prison, each. For fear of incriminating themselves in the perjury cases, neither Shabazz nor Johnson is expected to testify during Morgan’s retrial.

The Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO), which has been working on Morgan’s case since 2010, helped overturn his conviction in January 2014. The defense team argued that Shabazz and Johnson’s 1994 testimony should be excluded from the retrial because they are unavailable to testify due to the perjury charges. In their motion, the defense attorneys argued that the prosecution would benefit from the witnesses being unavailable, and therefore have motive to prevent them from testifying. They also wrote that Morgan would not be implicated and that the state would have no case against him because Shabazz and Johnson would testify consistent with their recantations. Following the judge’s decision to admit the original testimonies, the director of IPNO, Emily Maw, stated that Morgan should not be in this position, and that it is a shame the courts, which have the power to stop what she called a frivolous prosecution, have not taken such actions.

Assistant district attorneys filed a state response, placing blame on IPNO attorneys, who they argue ignored legal ramifications regarding Shabazz and Johnson because they were so adamant about achieving favorable testimony for Morgan. The prosecutors wrote that IPNO should have advised the witnesses to consult with independent counsel but neglected to do so, and are now trying to hold the state responsible for their unavailability.

In a counter-response to the state, the Morgan’s attorneys claimed that they had arranged for an attorney to counsel Shabazz and Johnson prior to their post-conviction testimony. They also argued that a simple solution, one that the state did not address in its response, would be for the district attorney’s office to grant immunity for any new testimony from the witnesses during Morgan’s retrial. The defense team wrote that the district attorney should take the honorable path and stop trying to send Morgan, Shabazz, and Johnson to prison, but unfortunately chose not to take that course.

Morgan’s retrial is scheduled for May 2.

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Innocence Project Client’s Retrial Postponed Due to New Evidence

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 08, 2016 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (0)

A retrial for a client of the Innocence Project in New York has been postponed following prosecutors’ announcement claiming that they have discovered new physical evidence. Anthony Wright was convicted for the 1991 rape and murder of 77-year-old Louise Talley, and has been serving a sentence of life without parole. Detectives used bloody clothing to convict Wright for the crime, which they said belonged to Wright and claimed to have found the clothes hidden in his mother’s bedroom after he told them where they were located. Wright has always maintained his innocence, claiming that his confession was coerced and that the clothes did not belong to him. In addition, his mother testified during the first trial in 1993, stating that police did not remove the clothing from her house.

The postponement comes as a surprise because previous DNA test results presented by Wright and his lawyers at the Innocence Project excluded him as a match for the sperm found in Talley’s body. The team convinced a judge to have samples from multiple articles of clothing in Talley’s rape kit tested by analysts at the Philadelphia Police Department using newly advanced DNA testing. Those results came back in 2013, revealing that the sperm matched Ronnie Byrd, who had an extensive past criminal record. In addition, interior sections of the clothing from behind the knees, elbows, and crotch were also tested for DNA. The results of that test showed that Talley, not Wright, as detectives had originally claimed, wore the clothes. That test could not exclude Wright, however, for a sample of “touch DNA” that was found on the waistband of Talley’s jeans; although, Wright’s lawyers argue that he may have left the DNA there when he was asked to pick up the jeans during his first trial.

The District Attorney’s Office decided to vacate Wright’s conviction and retry him following the 2013 test results. Wright, however, has remained in prison without bail due to the murder charge.

The prosecution now claims to have found a hair in an armpit interior of Talley’s sweatshirt after reexamining her clothing. It is currently unclear whom the hair belongs to, as it could be from a number of people, including Talley, Wright, Byrd, or even one of the many police officers that have examined the clothing since it was found. Upon the Assistant District Attorney’s request, Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd has postponed the retrial until the hair can be sent to a DNA lab to be tested and analyzed. The retrial, which was supposed to take place on February 29, has been postponed until August 8.

Prior to the postponement of the retrial, Judge Byrd’s history with Wright’s case has not exactly been favorable to the defense. Wright’s lawyers filed several motions with the judge, including two motions to exclude evidence from the first trial in 1993 that was used against Wright, all of which were denied. The defense also filed a motion to prevent Wright’s 1991 confession from being used by the prosecution, in which Judge Byrd ruled that there was not enough evidence to support that the police had coerced his statement. Wright’s lawyers also filed a motion to prohibit the testimony of two men that testified against him during the first trial. Roland St. James and John “Buddy” Richardson testified that Wright asked them to help him steal valuables from Talley’s home, and St. James also claimed that Wright had told him he killed a woman. The defense moved for their testimonies to be excluded because they stated that the new DNA results discredited them and that neither man can be cross-examined during the new trial because they have both died. Judge Byrd, however, denied the motion to toss those testimonies because he believed the DNA results had minimal effect on them.

Not only has the prosecution announced their new discovery of the hair, but they have also changed their original theory. In the first trial, the prosecution alleged that Wright acted alone. After the DNA results revealed that the sperm belonged to Byrd, who died in prison in 2013, they agreed that he was Talley’s rapist. Now they claim that Wright was present during the attack and that he may have been the one who killed Talley by stabbing her ten times.

The prosecution, however, may not be the only side with new evidence to present. Wright has denied knowing Byrd, St. James, and Richardson. Despite Judge Byrd’s rejections of the defense’s motions, he will allow Wright’s lawyers to introduce new evidence that they claim proves St. James ran a crack house on the street behind Talley’s house, and that he was initially suspected of raping and murdering her. In addition, the defense claims that St. James and Richardson, who had items belonging to Talley in their possession and therefore may have been involved in the crime, had motive to incriminate Wright for the crimes against Talley because they were Byrd’s companions.

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