Monday, September 17, 2007

Past Dallas DAs concealed exculpatory polygraph in capital case

Why did Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins withdraw his office's request for Joseph Lave to receive a lethal injection this week?

It's not because Watkins opposes capital punishment, but rather because not one but two previous DA administrations failed to hand over potentially exculpatory information to the defendant's lawyers in the case. Reported AP ("DA's request spares man found guilty in sporting goods slayings," Sept. 14):
prosecutors discovered evidence that had not been turned over to Lave's defense attorneys. The evidence, a second polygraph test given co-defendant Timothy Bates, came to light within the last few days, Ware said.

While he wouldn't describe the polygraph results in detail, it "goes to his credibility," [ADA Mike] Ware said.

Lave's lawyers had been requesting the information for years as part of the post-conviction process, and Ware said it appeared the administrations of two previous district attorneys failed to turn it over. Watkins became Dallas County district attorney in January.

One wonders, in how many other cases did Dallas prosecutors conceal exculpatory evidence? We may never know, but I'm glad to see DA Watkins taking responsibility for his predecessors' missteps. It would be easier for him to sweep such cases under the rug, just like the last two Dallas DAs did.


Anonymous said...

The names of the former DAs were not in the article to which you linked. Have those names been made public? Those attorneys NEED to be grieved against. If they did mislead the Courts -- lied to a judge about the existence of the exculpatory evidence -- they should be punished by the Bar. I doubt that members of the Dallas grievance committee who read the article will have the initiative to follow up on it and initiate a grievance procedure. Can you publish those names on Grits?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't know the names of the ADAs who actually worked the case. The two elected DAs would have been Bill Hill and Henry Wade.

Anonymous said...

It is time for new discovery rules in criminal cases. We grant counsel more discovery in a divorce than in a death penalty case. That must change. We should no longer rely on prosecutors to decide what to turn over.

Anonymous said...

There should be real enforceable criminal penalties when prosecutors do not follow the rules. This BS of "I didn't do it on purpose" does nothing to incent the DA's to do a proper job.

Just like a citizen, if they did it, they did it. Ignorance of the law is no excuse!

Anonymous said...

According to the Dallas Morning News:

"Richard Franklin, the lead defense attorney at Mr. Lave's trial, said he believes he had the results of the second polygraph, but he was not certain.
"'I think I had that information, but I'm not sure specifically what form it took,' Mr. Franklin said. 'It wouldn't have changed the way we did anything because we didn't believe Bates was telling the truth anyway.'"

So the DA may not have been concealing the evidence. And polygraph results are inadmissible in court, so it seems a stretch to call it exculpatory.

Michael said...

I agree with anonymous 1 (we should disclose the names of the former DAs). When you have a prosecutor who puts his own conviction rate ahead of his ethical (and statutory) duty to see "that justice is done", the world deserves to know who this amoral person is.

Anonymous said...

I really would like to know how the results of a polygraph are exculpatory. It isn't evidence.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@5:49 - It's information that undermined the credibility of a prosecution witness that apparently wasn't turned over to the defense. Whether it's admissible is one thing, whether it should have been rendered to opposing counsel quite another.

I'm not a lawyer, but if the information was knowingly withheld, to me that's reason enough to cast doubt on the prosecution's conduct of the case, particularly in a death penalty action where the stakes are so final. I think Watkins did the right thing - it's not like he said let the guy out of jail, just withdrew the request for the death penalty.

Anonymous said...

polygraphs are admisable as evidence in certain circumstances during a court case. true, they can't be used to prove guilt or innocence, but they can be used to prove the veracity of a witness' testimony. i know, because the positive results of a polygraph that i took were admitted by a judge into the court record over the standing objections of the d.a. so there.

Anonymous said...

Then the judge violated the Rules when he let the test results of a polygraph into evidence. They cannot be used for any purpose whatsoever in court. The *only* use to which they can be put is for investigators, who will often use them to try and rule out suspects or determine credibility outside of court.

And why has no one mentioned the fact that the defense attorney who handled the trial has said that he *did* have the results? These appellate lawyers who are complaining now are not the same lawyers who handled the trial. The prosecutor who is now saying they weren't turned over is not the same as the trial prosecutors. And why has no one in the media published what this polygraph specifically demonstrates (at least, that I have seen). Until someone explains how this polygraph result could have effected the outcome of the trial or helped the defense, it seems to me to be a lot of smoke but no fire.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"These appellate lawyers who are complaining now are not the same lawyers who handled the trial. The prosecutor who is now saying they weren't turned over is not the same as the trial prosecutors."

That's exactly right - the trial lawyer allegedly didn't do a great job and is trying to avoid claims that he incompetently handled the case. Meanwhile, the original prosecutors are the ones who allegedly withheld the evidence, so it could only come out when a new DA came onboard. So what's the point? Why should the appellate lawyers or the new DA's views be inherently discounted?

I can't know the facts behind the decision, but it was Watkins' decision to make, and if he thought past prosecutors withheld something, IMO he was obligated to do what he did.

Besides, given the bevy of recent wrongful convictions discovered in Dallas, what's the harm of playing it safe in a death penalty case?

Anonymous said...

"...What's the harm of playing it safe in a death penalty case?"

That's fair enough. So why didn't Grit's characterize the story as such?

To blindly condemn folks about facts of which you have no knowledge, and utilize hyperbole, "concealed exculpatory" when there is nothing saying that at all is wrong.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Watkins withdrew the request for execution because he believed the DA's office withheld information that went to the credibility of a prosecution witness. I think that set of facts backs up what I've written.

What's more, I think he was right to do so. Parse my language all you want, but it was the alleged concealing of evidence by past ADAs that put Watkins in this position, not me.

Anonymous said...

One thing is hiding evidence, another is to ignore it. Watkin's office is seeking death on a guy who has tested retarded. He can't blame this on Bill Hill.