Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New arrests made for murder in which victim's brother was convicted as lone gunman

A reader alerts me to a possible false conviction out of Brownwood, and a recent one, to boot. Reports the Abilene Reporter-News ("Was Brownwood man wrongly convicted of killing brother? New arrests made in case," Jan. 10):
A recent twist in a December 2009 Brownwood murder case may cast doubt on the guilt of a man convicted of killing his brother, authorities said.

New information has led to two arrests and an ongoing investigation into additional suspects into the death of Ronald Philen, said Micheal B. Murray, Brown County District Attorney.

In November, Randall Philen, 52, was sentenced to life in prison by a jury that found him guilty of shooting his younger brother, Ronald, 49, in the chest. A motion for a new trial was filed by the district attorney’s office Tuesday.

“If it is determined that Randall Philen was not a party to the crime, this office will act swiftly to dismiss the murder charge against him,” Murray said. “If it is determined that he was a party to the crime, then he will be retried in light of all available information.”


DEWEY said...

"“If it is determined that Randall Philen was not a party to the crime, this office will act swiftly to dismiss the murder charge against him,”"
And take several years to release him.

Anonymous said...

This article yesterday said Randall Philen has been released and 3rd suspect arrested.

Phillip Baker said...

These stories of grave injustice just keep coming. It is past time for a top to bottom reform of our entire "justice" system. Every person out there is at risk of arrest and prosecution by a vengeful or ambitious DA - or who just wants to pressure the defendant to take a plea by indicting the wife, sons, etc. Hiding evidence is common. That power is unchecked, and needs to be reined in. We ration access to law on the basis of money, just as we do health care. You can see in any court room the cattle call of appointed attorneys meeting their "client" for the first time minutes before their trial, scanning the file, and making decisions on the spot as how to advise- usually "take the plea". Post-conviction appeals are outrageously costly and come ONLY if you somehow find a way to hire a lawyer or learn to be one in prison. The Board of Pardons and Parole should be collectively dismissed for its 92% rejection rate alone. But how many men and women have come before them refusing to express "remorse" because they are maintain their innocence. Parole denied! Yet there have been well over 200 exonerations recently in Texas, almost half of all exonerations of the entire country! A study shows that 30% (!!) of Americans will be arrested and involved with the criminal justice system sometime in their lives. Given its pervasive presence in society, the justice system is far, far too important for our freedom NOT to be deeply examined and reformed.

Anonymous said...

Wait a second. Did I understand correctly that the DA in Brownwood had acted promptly to correct this problem? And he's still being vilified by the idiot "bleeding hearts" on this blog! Good grief people! You people will bitch about anything!

Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney said...

Like a friend of mine used to joke, "There's no justice in our justice system." Which most of us are starting to believe in.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you'd prefer the system used in China? Or Saudi Arabia? Or Iran? Or Indonesia? Or Cuba? Or Mexico? Or Somalia?

Anonymous said...

2:45 - I guess in a relative sense the D.A. deserves come credit for cleaning up his own mess, but in absolute terms he put Philen in prison for two years for the very crime that Philen was a victim of. That should kind of limit the attaboys the D.A. receives, shouldn't it?

If being pissed off by our state's insistence on putting innocent people in prison makes one a "bleeding heart" in your opinion, I'd suggest you need to re-examine your opinion. Which of us is the advocate of powerful government here?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and one other thing 2:45. Before you go calling Mr. Baker a bleeding heart because of his opinion on this, you might want to take a few minutes to see if you can figure out who he is. (Hint: Google "Debra Jan Baker" and "Morton" and that'll get you there). He and his family suffered greatly due to these kind of shenanigans. He's observed the effects of this stuff a lot more closely than you or I.

Anonymous said...

There are facts that led anyone with common sense to find Mr. Philen's story to just not make seem plausable.

The minute the story from those charged now came to light, as soon as a few things were verified the Brown County DA started the paper work to get Mr. Philen back, and in what has to be record breaking time he was released.

But it will always be strange why Mr. Philen after freeing himself chose to watch his brother bleed to death for several hours instead of call the police or at least an ambulance.

Anonymous said...

With all of these people being arrested it makes me wonder why it is just coming out? Remember these were teens when they did the crime in 2009 and teens like to brag about crimes when they get drunk so why is it just coming out? Makes you wonder what the Investigators were doing when this happened and did the fingerprints just show up the other day ? Make me wonder what is happening.

Hook Em Horns said...

Here in Texas, we have weighed the system so heavily in favor of the prosecution we have lost sight of the purpose the of the justice system.

I concur with those who suggest a top to bottom thorough review and reform of our system. It is fatally flawed far too often.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for those in favor of a top to bottom overhaul of the judicial system. What percentage of false convictions would be acceptable. The current standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" clearly is not sufficient to prevent a 1-2% false conviction rate, which is what seems to be the most commonly accepted estimate. So if 1-2% is too high, what would be acceptable, and what standard (other than "beyond a reasonable doubt") would that translate to for the jury?

Anonymous said...

Okay, 9:09, I'll bite. First, where do you get the 1 to 2% number. I haven't done any research but I would think that would be an extremely difficult thing to determine. If we knew all of the people who were falsely convicted, there wouldn't be a problem, would there? So, I don't think we can say that we know the percentage.

Second, even if it is as low as 1%, a 1 percent rate is 1 out of every 100 people. That's actually pretty signficant if you think about it. I don't know how many people are currently in prison in Texas but I think its more than 150,000. That's more than 1500 people. That's not an insignificant number. But, my guess is the actual number is several times that. Btw, that's not including those on probation and parole.

Next, let me ask you a question. If you were going to get on a plane, and statistically, there was a 1 in 100 chance the plane would crash, would you get on it? How far would you be willing to go improve your chances? What percentage of risk would you find acceptable?

Finally, the beyond a "reasonable doubt" standard isn't the problem. Those are just words, like "innocent until proven guilty." One thing that may help is to educate people/jurors on what those words actually mean. The real problems have been identified: faulty eyewitness ID procedures, lying and unethical cops and prosecutors, biased judges, etc. Problem identification isn't the problem. Getting people to get their head out of the sands and acknowledge that there are problems is the real problem.

So, I'm curious about the answer to that plane question. What is the acceptable risk to you? Let me put it another way, let's say your son or daughter had been falsely accused of a crime, are you okay with a 1 or 2 in 100 chance that they may be falsely convicted? Let's go a little further, put them in a county like Smith County, where the DA will lie, hide evidence, get a jailhouse snitch to lie, basically do anything necessary to get a conviction. I'd say, in certain locations, your chances of a wrongful conviction go up exponentially. How do you feel about your son or daughter's chances now?

Anonymous said...

This is 1:55 again, for those of you that hate anonymous posts.

I have another question for 9:09. Why do you oppose making the system better? Even if the percentage of wrongful convictions is as low as you believe, what is wrong with making it even lower? Why do you feel such a need to protect the status quo?

Anonymous said...

9:09 here. Actually, I am someone who is who is favor of a top-to-bottom overhaul. My work has brought me in contact with many if not most of the DNA exonerees Texas, so I've experienced first hand some of the negative consequences of the legal system.

So my question was not because I'm a great defender of the legal system's status quo. It was because at the end of the day, having reformed everything, you will still be left with an imperfect system, and one of the imperfections will be that sometimes people who are innocent of crimes will be found guilty, or will plead guilty to lesser offenses in order to avoid the risk of being convicted of a much greater offense.

So I think the question is a perfectly reasonable one. What is an acceptable percentage of falsely convicted/incarcerated individuals? Once that question is answered, then we can have a reasonable discussion of what changes would be needed to get there.

Anonymous said...

1:55 here again...

9:09/3:15 - I am afraid your question is probably impossible to answer because we may never be able to conclusively determine the number of people who are actually falsely convicted. The best answer I would give is the same as I would say about the number of plane crashes that are "acceptable": any one that is preventable is too many. I know that we will never have a perfect system but we shouldn't be looking for a "number" to settle on. Right now, while we don't know what the actual percentage of wrongful conviction is, we do know that it is too high. I don't really see the usefulness in attempting to come up with an "acceptable" percentage. If we have enough info to really know how many are wrongfully convicted, we should have enough info to correct and prevent those problems.

Anonymous said...

1:55 again...

3:15- I'm having trouble understanding your reasoning. Maybe you can explain, why would having a number to shoot for help? Lets say we came up with a number of 0.001 percent as an acceptable level of wrongful convictions: What do we do to get there? Do we do anything any different if we set the number at 0.1% or 0.01 or 0.0001%. I just don't see how setting an "acceptable" number helps. That's like saying a certain number of plane crashes are "acceptable." I understand that in flying there will always be an risk and we do deem some risk to be "acceptable." Otherwise we wouldn't fly. But, we don't just stop trying to improve safety just because we feel we've reached an "acceptable" level. We continue to try to prevent every crash that we can. So, our goal with the criminal justice system should be to try to prevent every wrongful conviction we can, not to set an "acceptable" level of risk.

We certainly don't need to wait on such a "number" to begin reforms. As I said before, the problems have been clearly identified. What are we waiting for?

Anonymous said...

It's really quite simple. If the only acceptable false positive error rate is zero, then we have a problem because we won't get there. So from a process design perspective, there has to be an agreement that a non-zero error rate is acceptable. So having established that it is okay to have some innocent people convicted/incarcerated, one measure of a "good" system is that that number is low. But how low does the system need to be to be for the system to be acceptably "good".

Clearly, from the discussion on this board, the current system is not "good". My impression is that that assessment is based on the fact that innocent people have been found guilty/incarcerated. But that will happen even with a "good" system.

So my question is, what would constitute "good" in this system?

Anonymous said...

1:55 here again with another thought:

I agree with 9:09/3:15 that there needs to be a reasonable discusssion of ideas. But, it is not the lack of a "number" that is preventing that. And, a "number" won't do anything to start such a discussion.

Let's just take one example: There are studies as well as a wealth of anectdotal evidence that shows that prosecutorial misconduct is a significant factor in many wrongful convictions. Several possible ways to address the problem have been proposed. Its not a hard problem to address and there are several ways it could be done. However, we can't have a reasonable discussion because many (including many, but not all, prosecutors) are either in denial about their colleagues, and maybe even their own, behavior (or some probably just want to protect their ability to engage in misconduct). So, how would coming up with an accpetable percentage for wrongful convictions facilitate this discussion? I bet if you asked some prosecutors their "acceptable" number would be higher than 1 or 2%. Unfortunately, some prosecutors care nothing about actual guilt or innocence, but only care about winning.

Anonymous said...

Prosecutorial misconduct is a no-brainer. Go ahead and take care of it.

But that is just tweaking. At the end of the day, after all the tweaking is done, by fixing the prosecutorial misconduct problem, by fixing the eye-witness identification problem, etc., you will be left with a system that is based upon a judgement by the jury (or judge) that the probability of guilt is "beyond a reasonable doubt".

If BARD translates into a 95% probability of guilt, then 5% of those judged guilty will be innocent, and about 8,000 people incarcerated in Texas would be innocent.

If BARD translates into a 99% probability of guilt, then 1% of those judged guilty will be innocent, and about 1,600 people incarcerated in Texas would be innocent.

If BARD translates into a 99.9% probability of guilt, then 0.1% of those judged guilty will be innocent, and about 160 people incarcerated in Texas would be innocent.

So if one is truly concerned with reforming the system so that the number of falsely convicted/incarcerated individuals is minimized, then one must be concerned with the standard of BARD and what that means. For the sake of argument, I will assert categorically that more people are falsely convicted/incarcerated due to the BARD standard than all other causes combined.

This particular case is a good example. There is no alleging of prosecutorial misconduct. There is no alleging of forensic error. The jury heard the evidence, and 12 people agreed that the BARD standard had been met. Yet after the fact, new evidence (an anonymous tip) comes to light which causes people to reconsider the probability of guilt.

Looking at things from a system performance perspective, the system failed (there was a false conviction), and the root cause was the jury's evaluation of the evidence.

Anonymous said...

In 1991 the Texas CCA defined reasonable doubt as: "It is the kind of doubt that would make a reasonable person hesitate to act in the most important of his own affairs" (Geesa v. State, 820 S.W.2d 154 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991)). In Geesa, the CCA also required trial courts to give that definition to juries.

In 2000 the Texas CCA reversed that decision. In the reversal, the court noted: "If a conscientious juror reads the Geesa charge and follows it literally, he or she will never convict anyone" (Paulson v. State, 28 S.W.3d 570 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000)).

In Paulson, the CCA provided guidance to trial courts that providing no definition to the jury was the best practice, but allowed for the Geesa definition if defence and prosecution both wanted it.

Anonymous said...

From: A handbook of jury research By Walter F. Abbott, John Batt, American Law Institute-American Bar Association Committee on Continuing Professional Education (1999).

Jurors were polled about the probability associated proof beyond a reasonable doubt for various crimes. Averages were:

Murder 9.5/10 (=95%)
Manslaughter 8.7/10 (=87%)
Statutory rape 8.4/10 (=84%)
Forcible rape 8.4/10 (=84%)