Friday, June 13, 2008

Tales from death row: Passion and intrigue marked two capital trials

To mind-blowing stories from death row deserve Grits' readers attention:

At State of Mine, Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith reprints an email from reporter Mike Hall about the astonishing case of Charles Hood, who was sent to death row after a Collin County trial in which the judge and the prosecutor were secretly having an affair. As Hall wrote, "If you were on trial, would you want to go before a judge who was having an affair with the person trying to send you to prison — or worse, trying to have you executed?" That's a pretty grim thought, alright. (RELATED: See "Ardor in the Court" from Salon.)

Meanwhile, the Burleson judge in the long-running Anthony Graves capital murder case keeps allowing into evidence testimony by a dead man who later recanted in gross contradiction with the US Supreme Court's Crawford ruling regarding the right to confrontation of witnesses. Reported Jordan Smith at the Austin Chronicle:
Judge Reva Tows­lee-Corbett denied a writ filed by Anthony Graves' defenders, who argue that the charges against their client should be tossed because the state's attempt to retry Graves violates his right to due process and amounts to double jeopardy. Towslee-Corbett's latest ruling reaffirms the position she took last summer, concluding that the testimony of a dead man, Robert Carter, could be used as evidence against Graves at trial – even though the fact that Carter is dead, executed by the state in 2000, would certainly preclude Graves from exercising his Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine the witnesses against him.

Indeed, the dead-man-testimony issue lies at the heart of the writ filed by Graves' new defense team, attorneys Kather­ine Scardino and Jimmy Phillips Jr. They argue that because Carter's coerced and perjured testimony at Graves' original 1994 trial was crucial to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in 2006 to vacate Graves' conviction, the state cannot now use that tainted testimony in their attempt to secure a second conviction.

Carter, convicted and executed, fingered Graves as his accomplice in the 1992 multiple murder of Bobbie Joyce Davis, her daughter, and four grandchildren. Graves has maintained his innocence, and none of the physical evidence links Graves to the crime. Carter later recanted, telling Graves' lawyers that Graves was not at all involved in the grisly murders, that he'd merely plucked Graves' name out of the air (he'd seen him earlier on the day of the murders), and that he had done so to protect his wife, Cookie, from police scrutiny. (Indeed, minutes before his execution, Carter again swore Graves was innocent: "Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. I lied on him in court.")

What Graves did not know at the time of his 1994 trial, however, was that Carter had already recanted his statement implicating Graves in the murder to then-Burleson Co. District Attorney Charles Sebesta, before Sebesta put Carter on the stand at Graves' trial. Not only did Sebesta fail to provide the exculpatory evidence to the defense – as required by law – but he ignored it in presenting Carter as a witness, allowing perjured testimony to be entered into the record. After more than a decade of appeals, the 5th Circuit in 2006 overturned Graves' conviction based on Sebesta's misconduct: "[I]t is obvious from the record," the 5th Circuit opined in 2006, "that the state relied on Carter's testimony to achieve Graves' conviction."

Notwithstanding the 5th Circuit's conclusion, Towslee-Cor­bett ruled that the transcript of Carter's questionable testimony would be allowed in court. ...

The defense argument goes like this: In finding that the state essentially suborned perjury from Carter at the trial and failed to provide to Graves information that Carter had recanted the portion of his statement inculpating Graves, the 5th Circuit ruled that the district court could not again allow the tainted testimony to be used as evidence against Graves. By ruling that the testimony would be allowed, Towslee-Corbett has thumbed her nose at the federal bench, once again stacking the evidentiary deck in favor of the state.
Anthony Graves' is one of those cases that makes you think Dallas DA Craig Watkins' idea to create penalties for Brady violations might be a good idea. That's pretty smarmy lawyering to use testimony from a dead man who recanted and not tell the defense he'd changed his testimony.


Anonymous said...

When are we going to start holding judges,prosecutors, and law enforcement accountable for their behavior? Many, many wrongful convictions are the result of unethical behavior by one or more of those parties. Too many of them have the idea that they can get away with anything because they have done so for so long with no consequences.

Anonymous said...

Reva Townslee-Corbett ought to be disbarred. She is the judge whose father, another Judge Townslee, presided over the trial of Rodney Reed. Reed, as you may recall, was convicted of murdering Stacey Stites, whose boyfriend was Jimmy Fennell, the police officer recently fired in Round Rock for sexually assaulting a woman in his custody. Fennell was suspected by investigators for Reed, and Fennell's DNA showed up at the crime scene, but corrupt Bastrop County investigators, and a corrupt Bastrop County District Attorney named Charles Penick, prosecuted the easy target -- the black man accused of murdering a white woman. Penick and Townslee-Corbett should both be tarred, feathered, and jailed.

Anonymous said...

It is time to relieve some of these corrupt judges from their "thrones" along with their prosecutors. The Judical System in Texas and probably other states has become so corrupt all owho are presently sitting on benches and their prosecutor's need to have term limits and removed and not from theier offices and not allowed to run for another office in the Judical System again. That might and I say might - prevent some of the hankly panky we are seeing and hearing about stopped. You should not see a prosecutor come out of the Judge's chamber with the Judge and both of them stand and talk and laugh before a trial or hearing has started.

Some Judges are insulting defense lawyers and witnesses and this is totally intolerable. Anyone judge or prosecutor with an "I" behind their name will never get my vote or any of my families votes.

It time to do something and change the corrpution in our Judical System, which has totally left this planet!

kbp said...

The Rules of Conduct clearly identifies it as a problem for attorneys that intentionally submit “false statement of material fact…to a tribunal”.

Does Texas not enforce those rules?