Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Import of recanted informant testimony never evaluated in capital case

In the latest Reasonably Suspicious podcast, my co-host, Texas Defender Service Executive Director Mandy Marzullo, described the case of Juan Castillo, who is scheduled for execution on May 16. His conviction was based in part on informant testimony which was later recanted, but the courts have never meaningfully evaluated how this allegedly false testimony affected Castillo's case. Since there has only been sparse coverage of these events, I pulled this segment out as a stand-alone. Give it a listen:

Find a transcript of our conversation below the jump. MORE: From the indefatigable Keri Blakinger. AND MORE (5/7): See a plea for clemency for Mr. Castillo published in the SA Express News.

Transcript: Segment on Juan Castillo capital murder case from the April 2018 Reasonably Suspicious podcast, co-hosted by Scott Henson and Amanda Marzullo.

Scott Henson: Next up in our Death and Texas segment on capital punishment. Mandy tells us about the case of Juan Castillo, who has been schedule for execution in May without courts having considered the implications of recanted informant testimony in his trial.

Scott Henson: Currently the US Supreme Court is considering whether to hear the case of Juan Castillo, who is scheduled for execution on May 16th. Last fall, the court of criminal appeals stayed a previous execution date and remanded his case for fact finding about his claim that an informants false testimony affected the outcome of his trial. So Mandy, what should folks know about this case?

Mandy Marzullo: This case, and full disclosure, Texas Defender Service actually represents Mr. Castillo.

Scott Henson: Right.

Mandy Marzullo: So there is bias here. But this case really is an example of how a case can cycle through the court system without any meaningful review whatsoever. So last fall the court of criminal appeals stayed Mr. Castillo's execution on the grounds that informant testimony may have affected the outcome of his trial. And directed the trial court to look into it.

Scott Henson: Yeah, false informant testimony.

Mandy Marzullo: False informant testimony, where he had recanted his statements. And we know that incentivized testimony is circumspect, just in general. There are a lot of problems with it that we've seen across cases. And much of the states case against Mr. Castillo is relying on statements of others can Mr. Castillo confessed.

Scott Henson: Right.

Mandy Marzullo: So it's not a particularly strong evidentiary case to begin with, which is one reason why we took it. But what happened in the trial court was pretty extraordinary. The case, once the case was in the trial court, it was there for really only a day. It was referred to the original judge who presided over the trial for bureaucratic reasons. The prosecutors office in Baer County submitted their brief to explain what happened and why there was no reason to open it up. And then the sitting judge adopted those findings, or proposed findings from the prosecutor's brief within a day. And provided us with no opportunity to substantiate our case and prove it, and that's where we are.

Scott Henson: So just to be really clear for the non-lawyers out there. This writ of habeas corpus had gone to the Court of Criminal Appeals. And they said, "Okay this informant issue needs to be looked at more closely. We're going to send it back down to the trial court judge for further consideration. "

Mandy Marzullo: Yes.

Scott Henson: But when it came back to the trial court judge, she did not give you an opportunity to issue a brief, to have a hearing, to really have any input at all.

Mandy Marzullo: No.

Scott Henson: And she just adopted the prosecutors findings of fact and put a rubber stamp on it, and sent it back. And the court of criminal appeals said, "That's good enough for us."

Mandy Marzullo: Yes, absolutely. So now we're in front of the US Supreme Court, and the issue is do we even have a right of due process?

Scott Henson: Right. And what was the point really of the Court of Criminal Appeals sending it back down if it's okay to have no examination at all of the issues. It makes no sense. It's kind of absurd on its face. And I don't understand why they then would think that was acceptable. They know these death penalty cases get incredible amounts of scrutiny. And why would you want to overlook potentially false informant testimony if that's going on?

Mandy Marzullo: It makes ... I can't explain it. I wish I could.

Scott Henson: Well good luck on your appeal to the Supreme Court.

Mandy Marzullo: All right, thanks.

1 comment:

Steven Michael Seys said...

Unfortunately, this case is merely a representative example of business as usual for an indigent person facing the justice system. Due process is not offered to the indigent.