Wednesday, October 19, 2011

'No sugar coating' prosecutorial miscondcuct in death penalty case

I received the following press release today from the ACLU Capital Punishment Project about alleged prosecutor misconduct in a death penalty case:
Due Process Demands Texas Man Who Maintains Innocence Be Given New Trial

The American Civil Liberties Union today argued before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that a man should be given a new trial because serious misconduct by a special prosecutor led to his capital conviction despite grave questions about his guilt.

Manuel Velez was sentenced to death in 2005 for the murder of a one-year-old boy based on the false testimony of his live-in girlfriend and mother of the child. The woman, Acela Moreno, failed to admit she had pleaded guilty to inflicting her son with head injuries the day he died. Medical experts made clear these injuries were consistent with those that led to the child’s death. At Velez’s trial, Moreno testified she pleaded guilty not to committing violence against the child but rather to having failed to alert authorities that Velez had allegedly been hurting the child.

The special prosecutor in the case negotiated the plea deal with Moreno and so knew she was covering up her own abuse of the child; indeed, he told the judge presiding at Moreno’s plea that she had injured the child.

But at Velez’s trial, he did nothing to set the record straight. He then presented Moreno’s false testimony as fact during closing arguments, repeating that she was guilty only of having failed to alert authorities.

“The Constitution requires that our judicial system be fundamentally fair, and this case was riddled with unfairness,” said Brian Stull, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, who presented arguments in the case. “We should never be comfortable with sending a man to his death when we know that the state has relied on falsehood to convict him. In cases where the irreversible sanction of the death penalty is involved, it is imperative that due process be fully upheld to ensure that innocent people aren’t executed.”
Velez has maintained his innocence, there are no eyewitnesses accusing him of the crime and no forensic evidence links him to the murder.

Last week, three of the nation’s pre-eminent legal ethicists filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the ACLU’s argument that Velez should be granted a new trial. The brief, filed on behalf of Robert P. Schuwerk, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, Lillian B. Hardwick, a regular consultant and expert witness on legal and judicial ethics in Texas, and Monroe H. Freedman, a professor and former dean at Hofstra University law school who is known as a pioneer in the field of legal ethics, says the conviction of Velez is a miscarriage of justice.

“There is no sugar coating what occurred here,” the brief reads. “Both the defendant’s conviction and his sentence of death are derived from a pervasive course of misconduct on the part of the special prosecutor.”

More information about Velez’s case is available online.


Anonymous said...

Yet the special prosecutor is not named? Nmas have been [ignored] to protect the guilty?

Anonymous said...

Okay, okay. "Names" have been [ignored]...

Anonymous said...

Come on Grits. The ACLU is not even remotely an objective source for this kind of post. I know you don't have to be fair, but before you circulate this kind of crap that could harm someone else's reputation, couldn't you at least try to give us both sides? We adults and are capable of forming our own conclusions. The press release, and link, looks like it came straight out of a legal brief. Shame on you.

rodsmith said...

well IF it is true both this crooked DA and the Judge who allowed it all need to be executed for their crime of ATTEMPTED MURDER!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:37, I tend to agree, but was just passing along a press release. Click through the links and perhaps they're named in the briefs.

8:50, if you are an adult capable of drawing your own conclusions, then draw your own. Many MSM stories are really just recycled police or prosecutor press releases that some reporter rehashes and adds their byline to. At least I told you where it came from and let you judge the source for yourself instead of feigning "balance." It's just a press release, take it for what it's worth.

I drove in yesterday from Houston and didn't have time to write anything or dig into the subject, but thought the allegations specific and substantive enough to let readers know about. For anyone truly interested, I gave you enough information to look the case up online and find all the background you want. Don't blame me if you're too lazy to do so and somehow think I'm obligated to spoon feed you.

Anonymous said...

The prosecutorial misconduct can be so bad, the innocent defendant feels there is no way out of a wrongful conviction (like in my case) and accepts the prosecutors deal that is the least amount of time he or she has to spend in prison. It's a situation in which is set up where only the prosecutor wins so they can keep their conviction record high.

Phillip Baker said...

I second you, Grits. Anonymous displays a screaming bias against the ACLU, leading him to assume the are only drumming up publicity. But again, we are all adults and can figure it out. Fox makes no pretense of being factual or fair, yet how many people just absorb their disinformation whole without a second thought. So, to all Anonymous's out there. please use your own judgment and stop automatically assuming one side or the other has lied. Even MSNBC loyalists need to pay heed here.

Anonymous said...

Good job Grits!!!