Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Released from death row, 'exoneration' disputed: The Alfred Brown case

The release of Alfred Brown - sentenced to death in 2005 after it was revealed that the Harris County DA's Office withheld key evidence and a corrupt grand jury manipulated an alibi witness - marks the end of an awful saga for one man, and the beginning of a debate about his story's meaning. See coverage from:
Press accounts pinned the proximate cause of Brown's release on a Brady violation (the state withholding exculpatory evidence), in particular phone records which corroborated his alibi. According to the Houston Chronicle:
Texas' highest criminal court on Wednesday threw out the 2005 conviction and death sentence of Alfred Dewayne Brown after finding that the Harris County District Attorney's Office withheld material evidence favorable to Brown's case.

In a brief order, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sent the case back to the lower court for a new trial.
It's especially poignant when someone walks away from death row a free man. (Radley Balko reported, "According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Brown is the 12th death row exoneration since 2013, and the fourth death row inmate exonerated so far this year.") What greater contrast could there be than to take someone awaiting death in a small box and send him home, declaring him free and clear?

The DA's Office went out of its way to avoid declaring Brown "innocent" - which would have entitled him to state compensation - much as Burleson County prosecutors did to Anthony Graves, at first. But it is certainly true Alfred Brown is "not guilty." The DA's decision not to formally exonerate him likely sets the stage for civil litigation, which may not end up being the wisest choice the widow Anderson ever made. She has missed an opportunity to put the issue behind her and wear a white hat. Whatever chits she earns with the police union from sticking to her guns won't outweigh the role of obstructionist/villain she risks playing in Lisa Falkenberg's Pulitzer-Prize winning saga at the Houston Chronicle about the case.

Amazing the lengths folks will go to to keep from saying "We made a mistake."

Regardless, Mr. Brown will be considered "exonerated" by national standards, reported the Chronicle:
Monday's decision does mean Brown will be listed as "exonerated" by Maurice Possley, a senior researcher at the National Registry of Exonerations.

"He fits our criteria," Possley said.

He said the requirements for exoneration are that a conviction goes away, either because the charges are dismissed or an acquittal at a retrial, and there's evidence that was not available at the first trial that is favorable to the defendant.
So barring new evidence, DA Anderson and the police union likely are on the wrong side of history on this one. Brown will be "exonerated" in both public perception and historical accounts whether or not the court or the state ever formally declares him innocent.


A Waco Friend said...

It sure sounds like some people are involved in a conspiracy to obstruct justice. Perhaps a U.S. Attorney might consider charges under federal law or a civil suit should be filed. But obstruction of justice has obviously occurred and the "law enforcement" personnel involved need to admit it.

Pat Hartwell said...

As one of the Abolitionists here in Houston, I want to weigh in about Lisa Falkenberg. Our utmost respect is given to Lisa for the series she wrote about Alfred Brown (Dobie). It was because of Lisa that these articles and subsequent exposure of the corrupt Grand Jury system here in Harris County, Dobie walked free the other night. Otherwise, he would still be in Polunsky, facing execution. The very competent attorneys were trying their hardest, however, Lisa was able to show the world the method of how the Grand Jury threatened the major witness, exposing how the DA withheld evidence (phone records) and "hiding" it for so many years (in a garage!). I know, for a fact, there are guilty people in prison. But, I also know, without a doubt, there are many innocent people sitting on Death Row this very moment. Mr. Brown is yet another reason we do not agree with the Death Penalty and this case should put questions into the minds of even the most ardent supporters of the Death Penalty. But, regardless of what side you are on, this case should bring into light the corruptness of the Harris County system. First responders arresting the wrong people, investigators not doing the job they were hired to do, Grand Juries acting like cowboys from the wild west, DA's wanting so much to put a feather in their cap, trial attorneys not listening to the clients and fighting for them and juries hearing only what they are told. Unfortunately, accused fight an uphill battle from the beginning. When the elevator opened and Dobie grabbed me for a bear hug, it felt as though he was hugging me and all the Abolitionists from all the guys on Death Row. We are eternally grateful to the attorneys for helping Dobie and our respects can not be adequately expressed for Lisa and what she did. Winning the Pulitzer Prize is an award always to be cherished. Obtaining the freedom of an innocent man is a prize Lisa will always carry in her heart. Thank you, Lisa Falkenberg.


While the jubilation may well be deserved; it needs to be kept in mind that there is a vast moral gulf between actual innocence and procedural innocence, regardless of the ultimate outcome.
If there is a second trial, let it be done properly and in strict adherence with due process. If Harris County chooses not to re-try this case, then Brown is entitled to compensation. The decision, as SH stated, is up to Ms. Anderson.

Anonymous said...

I recall reading in a grad school textbook about the phenomenon of law enforcement officials being unable to accept the possibility of a defendant actually being innocent. At the time, it was theory; today I've seen many examples. So many DAs, police, etc are truly unable to distinguish between prosecution and convictions vs. justice. There is no Justice in the Criminal Justice System,the phrase itself is an oxymoron.

Individuals like Bradley, Rizzo and others show that the phenomenon actually exists. I do not know if there is a name for this "syndrome". However I believe the term "cognitive dissonance" describes what is often written about: the inability of individuals to reconcile reality with their own internal belief systems, being totally incapable of seeing anyone else's point of view.

Perhaps this in an argument against Capital Punishment. Hard to undo mistakes like Todd Willingham's execution; fortunately for Brown, he was rescued before it was too late.

Lee said...

As I mentioned in our own blog (visit the way our system is setup that Anderson seems to have forgot is that all defendants start off with the presumption of innocence until a conviction (product of a plea or trial) is entered in. Lately we have seen many where convictions are entered, the defendant maintains innocent and is shown to be innocent much later so personally the weight of that criminal conviction has been seriously undermined. When one becomes careless with a word, it does loose its meaning. The point is when that conviction is removed from ones criminal record they return to the presumption of innocence (back to square 1).

Anderson is on the wrong side of history and the law because she had apparently forgotten that it is her job to prove guilt, not the defendant's to prove innocence. Living in a world where it is the defendants job to prove innocence is frankly horrifying. I think that Brown would get a better deal pursuing the civil litigation and dragging the authorities through more mud (in which Falkenburg may cover and get another Pulitzer for). The Pulitzer that she currently has now gives her far more credibility as Wonder Woman than the de Nile River that Anderson is trying to hide behind. Anderson may very well wish in these coming years that she had endorsed Brown's innocence and let him quietly receive the compensation that the state legislature has enacted (pittance hush money) than spending more taxpayer dollars in civil litigation and then millions more in damages.

Devon Anderson really should reverse course on this before she ends up following in the footsteps of that other former judge and prosecutor Anderson in Williamson County.

Anonymous said...

Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas.

Alfred DeWayne BROWN, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas.
No. AP-75294.
Decided: September 24, 2008

MR. RIZZO:  The reason I'm allowed to talk to you about this is because it's a response to something improper.

Ladies and gentlemen, if I had done just a smidgen of what [defense co-counsel] Ms. Muldrow said, I should not only be fired, but I should be indicted...


I think we should oblige Mr. Rizzo...

The Comedian said...

The law should be changed. If a DA withholds exculpatory evidence and an innocent person is executed, the DA should be charged with Murder. No hiding behind immunity.

Sorry, no jokes or satire in today's comment.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6/11/2015 10:06:00 AM, I think that form of "cognitive dissonance" exists on both sides of the issue given some of what has been stated since the court decision.

Jason Truitt said...

"While the jubilation may well be deserved; it needs to be kept in mind that there is a vast moral gulf between actual innocence and procedural innocence, regardless of the ultimate outcome."

I hope that some day you are put on trial for your morals.

Brown, however, was not. He was tried for a murder that his alibi would have shown he did not commit.

As for being "declared" innocent, that is the procedural issue, here. He is already innocent. I am too, and you are too, because we are presumed to be. Because the rights that we have as humans demand that we are until a government's procedures say that we are not.

Given your moral bent, I am assuming you are some sort of anti-government Christian, when it comes to things like Ted Cruz and taxes. But the majority of the Bill of Rights? When they are as indoctrinated into your religion as is the 2nd Amendment, maybe your religion will finally match your politics.

Scott Cobb said...

Alfred Dewayne Brown faces a legal struggle before he receives any compensation from Texas, just as Anthony Graves did after Graves was initially denied compensation after his own release. Graves was eventually compensated by Texas and I hope Mr Brown will one day also receive state compensation.

In the meantime, Mr Brown needs help now to rebuild his life after Texas death row. We have begun a fundraising campaign to help him. So far we have raised more than $4,000 for him. Our goal is to raise $5,000. The link to donate to Mr Brown is:

In 2010, a few weeks after Mr Graves was released, we raised $3,500 to help him out with his immediate needs after his release. In 2004, we made a similar effort for Ernest Willis and raised $1,000 for him.

Scott Cobb said...

We have raised $6,195 to help Mr Brown.