In September, Texans witnessed a death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence proving he didn't commit the crime, and another case where the DA and judge appear to have carried on a romantic relationship during the defendant's trial then covered it up. Now we discover another instance where a death row inmate was convicted after prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence discrediting the sole witnesses against him, revelations which most likely will earn him a new trial.
That's an impressive hat trick of official incompetence and corruption cropping up in a single month, don't you think?
In this latest example, Michael Toney was convicted in 1999 of placing a bomb on the steps of a trailer home that killed three people in 1985. No physical evidence connected him to the crime and now it turns out the prosecution failed to disclose information in their possession about discrepancies in witness' stories and information that corroborated Toney's testimony. The only other evidence against Toney was a jailhouse snitch. Reported the Dallas News ("Tarrant DA admits evidence was withheld in 1985 murder case," Oct. 3):
Police never established a motive for the bombing and finally came to believe it was meant for someone else.
The crime remained unsolved for 12 years. Then Mr. Toney, in jail on an unrelated charge, told another inmate about it. The inmate informed authorities. Mr. Toney later said he was only engaging in a ruse to help the other inmate get out of jail.
No physical evidence connected Mr. Toney to the crime. But his ex-wife and his former best friend testified they had seen Mr. Toney with a briefcase near the mobile home park on the night of the bombing.
The best friend, Chris Meeks, has since recanted – and reaffirmed – his testimony. The ex-wife, Kim Toney, has stuck to her story but has admitted to memory loss caused by exposure to toxic chemicals during military service in the Persian Gulf War.
Defense attorneys say the documents the district attorney failed to produce show that prosecutors were aware of inconsistencies in the stories of Ms. Toney and Mr. Meeks.
"And those were the only two witnesses tying Michael to the crime," said Jared Tyler, a lawyer for the Texas Innocence Network.
Mr. Tyler and Ms. Windsor jointly filed "agreed proposed findings of fact" with State District Judge Everett Young on Thursday.
"The State failed to turn over to the defense no less than 14 documents containing exculpatory or impeaching evidence," the proposed findings said. "Those documents included evidence of prior inconsistent statements of trial witnesses ... and evidence corroborating Mr. Toney's testimony at trial."
The suppression of this evidence favorable to Mr. Toney, the district attorney now acknowledges, "violated his due process rights."
The lead prosecutor in the original case, Mike Parrish, has retired from the district attorney's office. Efforts to reach him for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
Just as with innocence cases where old prosecutions were disproven by DNA, Toney's case provides a window into how errors get made in such high-stakes cases: Prosecutorial misconduct and a jailhouse snitch combined to convict Toney without giving him a fair trial, a fact even the Tarrant DA now admits.
I've never heard of the Texas state bar disciplining a prosecutor for Brady violations (failing to turn over exculpatory evidence), but surely at this point it's time for them to start. This happens way too often with too few consequences for attorneys who engage in such behavior.