I can't stand to read too many more stories' like Clay Chabot's. He's the latest Texas convict for whom a new trial was ordered after DNA evidence concluded the primary witness against him in 1986 committed "aggravated perjury," according to Mike Ware of the Dallas County DA's office.
Bottom line, the real rapist accused another man who may not have even been there. The man he accused spent 21 years in prison, while the snitch walked, sentenced to time served on a misdemeanor theft charged. Reported the Houston Chronicle ("DNA evidence leads to new trial for inmate after 21 years," Oct. 19):
The argument for allowing compensated snitch testimony (paid for by either cash or reduced culpability for crimes they've committed), is that Texas law currently leaves assessing witnesses' credibility entirely to a jury. So somehow, the argument goes, it would take away jurors' "rights" to require corroboration.
[Gerald] Pabst testified that he helped tie up Crosby [the victim], but that Chabot raped and killed her. Chabot told police he had not been involved in Crosby's death and was home with his family. But Pabst testified that Chabot was there seeking revenge for a drug deal gone bad.
Chabot was convicted of the rape and murder, and Pabst was released for time already served on a misdemeanor theft charge, according to the district attorney's office.
I say thats a bunch of horsehockey. Prejudicial evidence may be excluded from the jury's consideration for any number of reasons. More importantly, the "let the liars testify" argument ignores solid research that shows deception and lying often succeeds. People are commonly fooled by liars. You CAN fool some of the people some of the time, not infrequently including prosecutors, judges and jurors.
At the Deception blog recently I was interested, if unsurprised, as a parent, to learn that, "according to a study by Leif A. Strömwall, Pär Anders Granhag and Sara Landström, by the ages of 11-14, children are able to deceive adults 54% of the time, when given the chance to prepare their lies (and even when they can’t prepare the figure is 43% …)." Indeed, even babies are able to deceive their parents!
How much more effective would an adult liar be, especially one hyper-motivated because their own life and freedom were at stake?
Given that some people clearly are effective, believable liars, well-practiced from an early age, how can a conviction be obtained "beyond a reasonable doubt" when we rely on jurors' assessment of the credibility of someone they don't know, particularly when that person is compensated and has a huge motivation to lie?
Clay Chabot's case shows how deal-cutting for testimony can corrupt the judicial process, suborn perjurious testimony and ultimately cause wrongful convictions. Adding insult to injury, after the trial Dallas prosecutors let the snitch who actually committed the rape free to return to the community, where one speculates he probably went on to commit more crimes.
Requiring corroboration for eyewitnesses, even those who aren't compensated, dates as a legal concept at least back to Mosaic Law which required that, "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established." (Deuteronomy 19:15) Christ formally affirmed this doctrine as part of the New Testament covenant in Matthew 18: 15-16, as the Apostle Paul did in Second Corinthians.
I don't know the history about when, why, or by whom requirements for corroboration of witnesses were discarded from western legal and religious canons, but every time I see a case like Clay Chabot's, I think the rule needs to stage a comeback.