Posts Tagged ‘Texas’


Alfred Dewayne Brown Determined Ineligible for Wrongful Conviction Compensation by Texas Comptroller

Kate Mathis — June 09, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

In April, the state of Texas announced that Alfred Dewayne Brown, who requested nearly $2 million in compensation for his wrongful conviction, does not qualify as an exoneree who is eligible to receive money. State Comptroller Glenn Hegar explained that Brown was never formally determined to be “actually innocent” of the crime for which he was convicted and therefore, under Texas law, he does not meet the mandatory requirements for compensation. The law currently states that exonerees are eligible for compensation if they are granted a full pardon based on innocence, if they are ruled “actually innocent” by a court, or if their case is dismissed and are certified as “actually innocent” by a prosecutor.

Brown was convicted of capital murder for the fatal shooting of Houston Police Officer Charles Clark in 2003, who, along with store clerk Alfredia Jones, was killed during a check-cashing store robbery. Brown has maintained his innocence, however. His conviction was overturned on this day last year because the defense did not receive, as required by the rules of evidence, phone records that could have supported his alibi. The case was sent back to a lower court for a new trial, but the Harris County District Attorney’s Office determined that there was not enough credible evidence to retry Brown, and dismissed the charges.

Houston Police Officers’ Union officials remain confident that Brown is the prime suspect, but stated that too much time has passed and too many witnesses have recanted to proceed with a new trial. Ray Hunt, the union’s president, claimed that the compensation law was not written for instances in which witnesses are scared to or will not testify, but is rather intended for situations where the wrongfully convicted were cleared because of DNA or other such evidence. He went on to say that union lawyers determined Brown is not eligible for compensation after reviewing the law. The entire situation has stressed the union, which, hoping to gather information that could secure a conviction for Clark’s death, put up another billboard offering $100,000.

Brown’s attorneys intend to fight for compensation for the more than 12 years Brown spent on death row, and the case will probably end up back in court in order to determine the legal definition of “actual innocence.” Brown submitted a request in February for state money that exonerees usually receive to the Comptroller of Public Accounts, who serves as the chief accountant and treasurer for the state and is responsible under law for determining eligibility in cases like these. Attorney Neal Manne, upon receiving written notice of the rejection, was surprised by the comptroller’s decision to ignore the Texas Supreme Court. He claimed that the letter ignores both current state law and the right to compensation as clearly stated by the Texas Supreme Court.

Using a similar case in which another former inmate received state money, Brown’s attorneys plan to appeal to the state office and even file a lawsuit, if need be, to force them to compensate Brown. They are relying on Billy Frederick Allen’s case, in which he spent nearly 26 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. An appeals court ruled that the requirement for determining “actual innocence” was satisfied because of how strong the newly discovered evidence was in Allen’s case.

The controversy over the compensation law is not new, as state lawmakers have already changed it to allow other high-profile exonerees to receive compensation. The law was changed to make Anthony Graves, perhaps Houston’s most popular exoneree, eligible for compensation by allowing prosecutors to certify that he was “actually innocent.” Graves was convicted of capital murder in 1992 for killing six people and spent 20 years wrongfully incarcerated, 12 of which were on death row.

Brown’s attorneys think he is eligible for two types of compensation, one of which includes a lump sum of $973,589 based on a rate of $80,000 a year for his time spent in prison. The other involves the distribution of monthly payments in the same amount total for the remainder of Brown’s life. Brown could receive a total of $1.9 million for the 12 years he spent behind bars.

Brown received the support of Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis, who stood beside him when he announced in February that he would be seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. Ellis stated that Texas owes Brown the money, and that if the state is willing to spend millions of dollars on a wrongful conviction and keep him on death row, then the least it can do following his release is make an effort to try and help him put his life back together.

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Harris County’s Conviction Integrity Unit’s Drug Crime Exonerations

Kate Mathis — March 01, 2016 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (1)

A few weeks ago, the National Registry of Exonerations released their annual report detailing the exonerations that occurred in 2015. A detailed summary of that report can be accessed here. One part of the report was designated to prosecutorial offices’ Conviction Integrity Units (CIU), which aim to prevent, identify, and reverse wrongful convictions. CIUs have helped exonerate 151 people since 2003. One CIU in particular stood out in the registry’s 2015 exoneration report—the one in Harris County, Texas.

Of the total 151 CIU exonerations, Harris County (HC) was involved in almost half of them. In addition, HC’s CIU boasts 73 drug crime exonerations since mid-2014. Those drug crimes included possession or sale, and the exonerations occurred after lab tests proved the the purported drugs did not contain illegal substances.

Last year, there were 51 exonerations in drug cases, and HC’s CIU was responsible for 82% of them. Of the 47 people convicted for drug possession, a whopping 42 of them were from HC. All of HC’s CIU exonerations in 2015 involved drug-conviction guilty pleas, which brings to attention an important aspect.

Inger Chandler, the deputy district attorney that took over HC’s CIU in 2014, found that forensic crime labs gave the lowest priority to cases in which defendants pled guilty. Most labs are backlogged, and therefore felt no urgency to test the samples in those cases. In response to her findings, Chandler implemented new procedures hoping to combat the problem. One of these procedures is to test drug evidence in the order that it arrives. If the tests prove there are no illegal substances present, the public defender’s office is notified so they can file a writ to have the conviction reversed. Nicholas Hughes, the assistant public defender that handles most of the cases, gives priority to any cases in which someone is currently serving a sentence.

Another important factor that came to light in these cases is the field test used by law enforcement to test drugs. The test kits contain chemicals that change color upon contact with illegal substances. However, these field tests are known to be unreliable, generating positive results for illegal substances for items such as Jolly Rancher candy and soap. Out of the 73 drug crime exonerations in HC, these shoddy field tests were responsible for 39 of the charges.

The biggest question raised by the record high number of drug crime exonerations in HC relates back to guilty pleas and why defendants pled guilty in the first place. Chandler explained that defendants might have thought they were in fact possessing illegal drugs, when in reality the drugs they purchased were actually fake. Another reason may be due to the fact that prosecutors consider crimes such as drug possession low priority, and therefore can avoid wasting their time on them by offering defendants plea deals. Because many defendants cannot afford private attorneys or do not wish to spend years of their life behind bars attempting to prove their innocence, oftentimes they think plea deals are their best option.

In addition to Chandler’s procedural fixes, the HC District Attorney’s Office has also made efforts to prevent this issue. In February of last year, they upgraded one of their policies to no longer offer plea deals to defendants facing jail time for drug possession until the forensic lab returns complete results.

Unfortunately, CIUs have experienced some setbacks. Many district attorneys’ offices do not care to be bothered with reopening these cases. In addition, some jurisdictions destroy evidence once a defendant has pled guilty. Despite these circumstances, CIUs have and will continue to do great work in helping to exonerate innocent people.

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Texas Forensic Science Commission’s Recommends Ending Use of Bite-Mark Testimony

Kate Mathis — February 23, 2016 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (0)

What we know scientifically continuously changes as new research and advancements in technology become available. One area of interest that was once heavily relied upon in criminal trials has recently been called into question. After a six-month investigation, the Texas Forensic Science Commission (TFSC) recently concluded that criminal trials should cease using bite-mark identifications because the technique’s validity cannot be scientifically established. The commission’s chairman, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, stated that criminal cases should not permit bite-mark testimony because it does not meet forensic science standards. The Texas Legislature created the TFSC in 2005 with the purpose of investigating forensic evidence that is possibly being misused.

During bite-mark testimony, dental experts claim that they can identify marks on victims as those left by teeth and that those supposed bite-marks on a victim can be matched to the dental impressions of a known suspect. The commission, whose findings will be presented in a written report to the Teaxas attorney general, is the first of any official state or federal bodies to recommend the exclusion of this type of testimony. Although it is not legally binding, the recommendation may prove to be extremely significant, and legal experts believe it may have wide-reaching effects on criminal trials nationwide. The recommendation could assist trial judges in deciding whether to allow bite-mark testimony, and may also help defense lawyers prevent wrongful convictions when prosecutors insist on using this  unvalidated science in their quest to convict.

In addition to their investigation and conclusion about bite-mark testimony, the commission also began sorting through decades of past trial records. They intend to identify cases that relied heavily upon bite-mark testimony, and therefore should be reopened. According to Dr. Di Maio, although they have not determined in which cases bite-mark testimony was a critical aspect, this type of testimony was involved in 35 convictions that they have identified thus far. He went on to state that the TFSC would alert convicted individuals and defense lawyers who may want to pursue new trials or exoneration at the appropriate time.

Relied upon for decades and used in hundreds of convictions across the country, forensic dentistry specialists used bite-mark testimony to “reliably” match a suspect’s tooth patterns to marks on a victim. As this type of testimony has been increasingly called into question, it has been used less often in recent criminal proceedings and DNA testing has exonerated several people whose convictions were based on bite-mark testimony. In addition, new studies revealed that wound patterns from the same teeth can differ and change shape over time because human skin is very malleable. In fact, in one study that was presented to the TFSC, even a panel of leading forensic dentists could not agree whether human teeth caused the alleged bite marks in the photographs they studied.

The commission hopes that with their new recommendation, researchers will eventually establish thorough principles for identifying human bite marks. They also hope the criteria will include when bite marks can be used in investigations, such as to exclude a person from suspicion or say that they cannot be excluded, rather than to prove one individual left the wounds.

The Innocence Project of Florida is challenging a conviction of a client who was induced into pleading, in part, on problematic bite-mark evidence that the original expert how now recanted. In fact, a battery of forensic odontologists have concluded that the supposed bite-mark purportedly left by our client on the victim’s shoulder was not even a bite-mark at all. Yet, the State continues to oppose relief for our client and is relying on the bite-mark evidence in their attempt to preserve this wrongful conviction.

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Exoneree Compensation Across the United States

Marianne Salcedo — October 03, 2014 @ 3:17 PM — Comments (0)

A Planet Money story from NPR that we missed last summer (June 2014) entitled, “When Innocent People Go to Prison, States Pay,” provides an excellent overview of compensation for wrongfully convicted exonerees in all fifty states.

Twenty-one states provide no money — though people who are exonerated can sue for damages. Twelve states and the District of Columbia award damages on a case-by-case basis. Another 17 states pay a fixed amount per year of imprisonment.

Amounts vary from $80,000 per year behind bars in Texas, to $5,000 per year in Wisconsin. Florida and six other states match federal compensation of $50,000 per year.  Not that any amount could make up for the horror and humiliation of being an innocent person wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, but it is something — especially considering that very few exonerees get any sort of an apology from the state.

Even more appalling, as this article notes, is the fact that states are willing to pony up some limited annual compensation in order to prevent innocent exonerees from suing for much greater amounts.  Many states require exonerees to give up the right to sue as a condition of receiving compensation.

At the Innocence Project of Florida our concern is that our state’s compensation law has a loophole known as the “clean hands” provision.

961.04 Eligibility for compensation for wrongful incarceration.A wrongfully incarcerated person is not eligible for compensation under the act if:

(1) Before the person’s wrongful conviction and incarceration, the person was convicted of, or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, any felony offense, or a crime committed in another jurisdiction the elements of which would constitute a felony in this state, or a crime committed against the United States which is designated a felony, excluding any delinquency disposition;

(2) During the person’s wrongful incarceration, the person was convicted of, or pled guilty or nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, any felony offense; or
(3) During the person’s wrongful incarceration, the person was also serving a concurrent sentence for another felony for which the person was not wrongfully convicted.

So not only will a prior felony of petty theft or possession of marijuana make any exoneree, no matter how unjustly he or she was treated, ineligible for compensation, but if the inmate gets caught up in something while in prison–say badly injuring another inmate who has attacked or tried to rape them, they are also ineligible for compensation in the State of Florida.

In the best of all possible worlds, as Voltaire would say, states would show some recognition of and remorse for their mistakes that led to wrongful convictions and incarcerations of innocent men and women.  Instead, states begin by putting up roadblocks to protect their convictions, right or wrong, issue no apology to the men and women whose lives they have ruined, and then provide limited compensation to spare them from multi-million dollar lawsuits  And Florida adds another insult to the injury with its “clean hands” provision.  We ask the convicted to show recognition and remorse for what they have done; it is only fair to expect the states to do likewise.

Compensation,exoneration,Innocence Project of Florida,justice,policy,post-conviction,prison, , , , , , , ,


Wrongfully Convicted Texas Man Exonerated

Julian Soto — August 06, 2014 @ 3:58 PM — Comments (0)

Michael Phillips’ 24-year nightmare is finally over. In 1990 in a Dallas motel room, a young white woman was brutally raped by a black man wearing a mask. At the time of the assault, Phillips was sleeping in his own room at the motel, but that fact proved inconsequential. Police dragged him out of bed at gunpoint, he was then“identified” in a police lineup, and  convicted of a crime he did not commit. He then spent the next 12 years of his life paying the price of a crime committed by another man. Worst of all, he was unable to be with his father when he died, simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this was just the beginning of his hardships.

Michael Phillips was released from prison in 2002. However, that was hardly an improvement in his life. Yes, he may had been physically freed, but according to the State of Texas, he was still a convicted rapist. Not just any rapist, but a black man who raped a 16-year-old white girl. He was forced to register as a sex offender and to live with the intense social stigma associated with that title. There was now nowhere he could go where he would not be looked upon as a monster. His life was effectively ruined. This is the quiet tragedy of a false conviction: not only was Phillips wrongfully incarcerated in prison for 12 long years that he can never reclaim, but he then had to live as an ex-con/sexual predator once freed. His wrongful conviction did not just rob him of the the time he served, it stole a quarter-century of this innocent person’s life. Whatever possible future Michael Philip was heading toward in 1990, it was destroyed by the very justice system that was supposed to protect him. Phillips life will forever be defined by a series of tragic mistakes, oversights, and possible prejudice.

On July 24th, 2014,  Michael Phillips was at long last exonerated by a Dallas judge. After 24-years of prison, 24-years of shame, and after living decades of injustice, Mr. Phillips’ is finally recognized as the innocent man that he always was. Unfortunately, Phillips is now a 57-year old in a wheelchair slowly dying from Sickle Cell Anemia. He will never get his life back. Yes, the state will give him some money to compensate for their mistake, but money will not buy back one second of Mr. Philips’ life. People are only given one precious life to live in this world. Our legal system cannot continue to play so lightly with human lives. These are not mistakes which can be fixed. Mr. Philips is human being, and while his life may have been broken by an unfortunate series of events, he still has to keep on living it. This is the core reason why the post-conviction innocence movement is so critical. We cannot keep allowing innocent lives to be wrecked because of mistakes.

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The Changing Nature of Exonerations

Hannah Beery — March 11, 2014 @ 12:49 PM — Comments (0)

Across the country the “face of exonerations” are changing, and changing quickly. Last year in the United States there were 83 exonerations. Only 13 of these were based on DNA evidence. Ultimately, DNA is useful in only 5-10% of all cases, usually the ‘who dunnit’ type cases. Surprisingly, women make up the fastest growing population in prisons, and most cases involving female crimes are not DNA case, according to an article by TIME Magazine.

So what can we do to help the other 90% of cases?

Well, Texas has taken on this problem by passing legislature recognizing faulty forensic evidence as a basis for post-conviction release.

In Chicago, a federal judge issued a ruling finding “actual innocence” in a case based on shaken baby syndrome. Without the presence of DNA evidence, Jennifer Del Prete proved that it was impossible a jury could have found her guilty of murdering the child in her care. This has developed the idea that shaken baby syndrome is “more of an article of faith than a proposition of science”, according to U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly. Del Prete has not yet been exonerated, but it is likely she will be. When this happens her case is expected to follow in the footsteps of the non-DNA exonerations we had in 2013.

Recognizing the fact that not all wrongful conviction cases involve DNA, everyone in the criminal justice process must understand that wrongful convictions involve misidentifications, false confessions, and invalid forensic science, and be open to other avenues to prove actual innocence. While many states have taken this first step, there are also many who haven’t.

Check out this article from TIME Magazine by Deborah Tuerkheimer, Professor of Law at DePaul University College of Law, that goes more in-depth on this particular exoneration topic and was used as a resource for this blog post.

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Hank Skinner Continues to Languish on Texas’ Death Row

Henry Thompson — September 30, 2013 @ 2:01 PM — Comments (5)

A man has waited on death row in Texas for his exoneration for twenty years. Hank Skinner was convicted of murdering his then girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in January of 1993. The police failed to investigate another potential suspect, Twila’s uncle, who had a history of violent activity and molestation. At the trial, there was little mention of exculpatory evidence due to the fact that Skinner was at the scene of the murder. Upon his conviction, the jury recommended the death penalty. Skinner has been languishing on death row in Texas for twenty years all the while maintaining his innocence.

Now thanks to DNA testing Skinner may have a shot at regaining his freedom. Twila Busby’s uncle had often worn a jacket that was similar to the jacket found next to her body. Upon testing some hair on the jacket and in Twila’s hand it was found that the hairs belonged to her uncle. The District Attorney had made a promise to Hank Skinner that DNA testing would be allowed and taken into account though upon the test results being revealed the D.A was reticent to fulfill that promise.

After years of appeals and Skinner’s lawyers unsuccessfully fighting his case, Hank was to be executed, though at the last minute the state of Texas issued a stay of execution. Just one year later, the courts ruled that he would have access to the biological evidence in his case and justice would be served. Unfortunately for Hank and conveniently for Texas the original jacket that had already been tested was lost. However the hairs were still available. DNA testing on the hairs excluded Skinner and revealed a potential match to Twila’s uncle.

Hank SkinnerWhile the legal wrangling and testing has been going on, Hank was living on death row. Spending the majority of his days in a cramped small cell eating terrible food has begun to take its toll. Hank Skinner was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis recently and is back on death row while a resolution to his case is pending. What’s worse is that Twila Busby’s uncle, the only other suspect in the case, has been deceased for years and his body must be exhumed for Hank Skinner to be freed.

We all hope that Hank Skinner can stay healthy enough to see his family and friends again. More information about Hank Skinner’s case can be found at The Huffington Post and HankSkinner.org.

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Solitary Confinement: Re-assessing, Re-evaluating, Re-thinking

Anne — July 27, 2012 @ 4:27 PM — Comments (1)

Note: This is the first of a three-part series on solitary confinement.

Dr. Craig Haney, the nation’s leading expert on inmate mental health, and a professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, recently testified before a U. S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights on the effects of solitary confinement upon prisoners. Inmates in long-term confinement, according to Haney, suffer mental breakdowns from the lack of human contact that can lead to a multitude of mental, physical and emotional conditions, including psychosis, mutilations and suicide. Solitary confinement for most inmates, Haney testified, “precipitates a descent into madness” and can cause “profound, psychological damage.”

The increase in solitary confinement in the United States (since the late 1970s), according to statistics provided by Haney, is the result of the “confluence of three unfortunate trends”: mass imprisonment, the shift in responsibility for housing the mentally ill to the nation’s prison systems, and the abandonment of the notion of rehabilitation. Haney, who is also chair of UCSC’s Legal Studies program, estimated that 80,000 of the nation’s 2.3 million inmates in prisons and jails are in long-term solitary confinement. A great number of inmates have spent the majority of their prison sentences in solitary confinement, a legal and administrative practice that separates designated inmates from the prison’s general population.

Professor Haney was invited to testify by Subcommittee chairman Senator Richard “Dick” Durbin, D-Ill, at the first-ever hearing on the constitutional, fiscal, and public safety consequences of solitary confinement. Since 1971, Haney has conducted groundbreaking research into the effects of solitary confinement upon prisoners. His work has been cited in numerous scholarly journals and publications. Since 1971, he has been a leading proponent of mental health issues affecting prison inmates.  As a graduate student, he was one of the principal investigators in an academic undertaking that became known as the “Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE).” He and fellow researchers placed a group of psychologically healthy college students in a prison-like environment, randomly assigning half to the position of prison guards; the other participants were designated as prisoners.

The researchers in the SPE carefully monitored participants’ behavior during the designated period, eventually ending the experiment, however, upon their observation that the otherwise “psychologically healthy volunteers in the simulated prison [setting] rapidly deteriorated into mistreatment and emotional breakdowns.” Thus began Haney’s prolific research into the effects of solitary confinement upon prisoners who have been incarcerated for extended periods of time. Since the SPE, Haney’s work has extended into the effects of capital punishment as well. In 2011, his research was cited numerous times in the majority opinion when the United States Supreme Court upheld a ruling ordering California to release 46,000 prisoners in an effort to relieve the state’s overcrowded prisons.

While a great portion of Haney’s testimony before the Subcommittee centered upon the effects of solitary confinement, he also addressed the state of  prisons’ mental health workers, individuals who are assigned the task of treating inmates who have mental health issues.  Oftentimes the workers are (themselves) stressed and too overburdened to render effective care with respect to noticeable improvements in inmates’ mental health issues. Such inadequate  healthcare not only harms prisoners, Haney testified, it also “endangers the public once those prisoners are released” from prison. Without adequate mental healthcare as well as available, external counseling, prisoners, once released from the confines of a structured environment, are oftentimes present and “untreated” in the public domain.

Many times, according to statistics  provided during the hearing, non-treated inmates (or inadequately treated inmates) commit crimes which cause their return to the familiar, institutional environment of incarceration. A vicious cycle of re-institutionalization becomes, in many cases, the norm. An overburdened healthcare system speaks not only to an inadequate system of governance–as it relates to prison reformation–it also articulates a much broader statement in terms of the responsibilities of government in being fiscally accountable to those who work in conditions as presented in California’s (and other states’) prison facilities.

Haney’s testimony before the Subcommittee concluded on multiple points of note. According to Haney, we put “far too many people in prison, we pay far too little attention to what happens to them while they’re there, we keep them there for far too long, then we disregard what happens to them when they try to make the difficult transition to come out into the free world.” In April 2012,the National Academy of Sciences appointed Haney to a panel to study the causes and consequences of high rates of incarceration in the United States.

Others testifying on issues related to solitary confinement included the Honorable Charles Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; Christopher Epps, Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections; and former inmate Anthony Graves, who was released from Texas death row in 2010, after spending 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Ten of the 18 years Graves spent on death row were in solitary confinement. He is the founder of “Anthony Believes,” an organization dedicated to the health and well-being of individuals consigned to death row and solitary confinement. His front-line advocacy has garnered national attention on issues related to solitary confinement and prison reformation.

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Weekly Update: Compensation and Misconduct in the Lone Star State

Chelsea — May 21, 2012 @ 8:59 AM — Comments (1)

Austin County Attorney Brags About Professional Misconduct

A county attorney in Austin, Texas name of Jana Duty has lied about her involvement with the case of exoneree Michal Morton, who was convicted of murdering his wife Christine over 25 years ago. Duty is currently running for election as Austin’s district attorney, and these allegations of her professional misconduct have come out as a result of her campaign.

Read more about the complaints lodged against Ms. Duty by John Bradley, a man who is running for the same district attorney spot, here.

Texas Supreme Court Orders State to pay $2 Million to Exoneree

Texas exoneree Billy Frederick Allen spent 26 years behind bars for two Dallas murders he did not commit. Yesterday it was announced that he will finally receive compensation for the time he spent wrongfully incarcerated.

Allen was convicted in 1983 and was released in 2009; his release, unlike many other exonerations, came about as a result of problems with witness testimony and Allen’s legal representation that surfaced decades after the original trial. Allen’s success in suing the State for compensation may be the start towards setting a precedent for compensation in other wrongful convictions cases.

Read more about Allen’s case and his compensation trial here.

DNA Evidence Links Another Man to Murder of a Young Girl

Illinois man Andre Davis was only 19 when he was arrested for the murder of 3-year-old Brianna Stickle. While he has not yet been completely exonerated, DNA tests have linked another man to the case, and Davis will either be retried or have the charges against him dropped within the next several weeks. At present Davis’s conviction has been overturned.

Read more about Davis’s case and his future here.

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Texas: The State of Juxtaposition

Anne — October 24, 2011 @ 2:31 PM — Comments (1)

What’s up with the State of Texas?

During a September 2011, Republican presidential debate featuring Texas governor Rick Perry (and other candidates vying for the party’s 2012 nomination), the audience cheered loudly (and perhaps even high-fived their seatmates during a few off-camera shots) in response to Perry’s position on capital punishment. Even though the governor’s stance is pretty much a “known,” it was quite astounding to hear such vociferous affirmations coming from the assembled crowd.  A casual observer just tuning in to the televised debate might have viewed the yelps, yahoos, and foot-stomping madness as the governor’s response to an inquiry regarding, say, his preference for apple pie as opposed to pineapple upside down cake.

But the crowd’s jubilance wasn’t in response to the governor’s culinary preferences.

The crowd’s unabashed, thumbs-up deportment was the verbal, behavioral, and unvarnished reaction to a much larger truth: their belief in the righteousness of the governor of the state of Texas.  Take it straight from the crowd: Apple pie and pineapple upside down cake can’t compare to the gratifying exhilaration of lethal injections. While the former might have the capability of satisfying one’s temporary need for a pleasurable sweet-fix, the latter has the unequivocal effect of putting its subject to sleep. Forever. End of Story.

Fast forward to the case of Michael Morton.

On October 3, 2011, Michael Morton walked out of a Williamson County (Texas) courtroom a free man after having spent the past 25 years behind bars for killing his wife. DNA evidence pointed to another man as the responsible party, but not before Morton had been severely victimized by the state’s judicial system. Abhorrent, unconscionable behavior by the State, including the dismissal of a judge’s order for a review of the case, greatly contributed to Morton’s quarter century incarceration. “Stunning” is the word a Senior Staff Attorney used to describe prosecutors’ conduct in the  case.

Recent developments in Morton’s case, however, indicate that the State is reviewing legal documents related to his conviction and has launched an investigation into actions engaged by trial lawyers in the case. And while it might be a bit too premature to pop the champagne cork and ready the long-stems in celebration of a positive outcome, it is a  post-commencement to a case which ended horribly. 

Whatever the outcome in the investigation, 25 years of Michael Morton’s life are gone. Like the wind. Never to return. Or be returned.

Now, too, comes the case of Anthony Melendez, the only living defendant in the 1982 case of three teenagers slain in Lake Waco, Texas. At the time of Melendez’s conviction, there was no DNA testing available. But now, in an effort to exonerate Melendez through DNA evidence, Attorney Walter M. Reaves has filed a motion asking for the testing, which involves DNA evidence present on shoelaces used to tie up one of the victims.

While Melendez has always maintained his innocence, he confessed to his involvement in the crime on the advice of his defense team who convinced him that if a jury found him guilty he would, in all likelihood, be sentenced to death. When you’re young, scared, and presented with few options in such a case–and are listening to authority figures who presumably have your best interests at heart– a life sentence might not sound like such a bad idea, given the alternative.

But Melendez’s case is in the Lone Star State, where guilt and innocence are oftentimes secondary to truth and justice.

The McLennan County (Waco) District Attorney’s Office is fighting tooth and nail in an oppositional effort regarding any such exertions related to post-conviction DNA. The jury has spoken, the DA’s Office has asserted, and any such testing, if permitted, will “override” the jury’s decision.

“Override the jury’s decision”?

Let me be clear on this: The District Attorney’s Office would rather maintain a guilty verdict–in light of compelling evidence which can prove a man’s innocence–in an effort to “maintain” a jury’s decision, no matter if the jury’s decision was reached in error? What this suggests to me is that the DA’s Office is more concerned with winning (and obviously at all costs) than it is with obtaining the truth and moving that truth forward. Justice, it seems to me the DA’s Office is saying, has no (or very little) place in this effort of review. And while the State Attorney’s Office might be in the “routine” business of prosecuting cases against individuals it deems guilty of having committed various crimes in Texas, I suggest that it is also a state where truth and justice might not be the most significant item on a random docket.

From a potential presidential nominee who favors state-sanctioned revenge killings, to acts of prosecutorial misconduct, to maintaining questionable jury decisions, Texas offers the nation’s citizens a grand perspective of its judicial viewpoints and operations that leave much to be desired. 

While the Lone Star State is certainly not a state alone in its stance on capital punishment, victims’ claims of innocence, and judicial reviews of former cases, I see it as a State of Juxtaposition, where apple pie and pineapple upside down cake are as welcomed as lethal injections, judicial misconduct, and questionable decisions from those whose jobs are to seek the truth.

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