Saturday, June 26, 2010

Innocence on Trial - Part II

Mark your calendars.
November 8 - Texas
July 7 - Georgia
November 8, 2010
That's the date Judge Kevin Fine, presiding over the Texas death penalty case State of Texas v. John Edward Green, Jr., who briefly held that the Texas death penalty procedures were unconstitutional and that he'd hold a hearing on whether Texas executes innocent people, who the state tried to kick off the case as a result, but was not taken off will hold that hearing.
Here's Juan Lozano in the Houston Chronicle on the hearing.
The November hearing could last at least two weeks and death penalty experts from around the country are expected to testify, said Casey Keirnan, one of the defense attorneys that asked for the hearing. Keirnan and Bob Loper are representing John Edward Green Jr., accused of fatally shooting a Houston woman and wounding her sister during a June 2008 robbery.
"I think everybody in the United States would agree that the possibility exists" an innocent person has been executed, Keirnan said. "We think there is much more than a possibility, based on all the exonerations, all the problems with the forensics."
Kari Allen, a prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, said her office isn't opposed to a hearing that would examine the constitutionality of the state's death penalty law.
"We are opposed if the hearing is about whether or not Texas has executed an innocent person," she said. "We do not believe (Fine) has the jurisdiction to make that sort of ruling."
The thing about judges is that if you can't shut them down (and they didn't manage to shut Fine down), they pretty much do what they like.  Fine wants that hearing.  The prosecutor's opposition isn't likely to change that.  Unless some court intervenes, the innocence trial will be coming to Texas.  It'll be worth watching.
July 7, 2010
Meanwhile, there was an innocence trial of a different sort in Georgia this week where Troy Davis was trying, under orders from the U.S. Supremes, to convince U.S. District Judge William T. Moore, Jr. that he's actually innocent of the killing for which he's been on death row.
Did he do it?  I don't know.  Is the evidence that he did particularly compelling?  Nope.  In fact, it's mostly evaporated.  (Though the state's case got a lot better when Moore ruled that he would not permit defense witnesses to testify that the other suspect confessed to them.)
The judge has ordered post trial briefing July 7 and promises a ruling soon after (whatever that means).

So July 7 and November 8
Mark your calendars.
But don't expect more than fireworks.  Whatever the rulings, nothing much is likely to change.  The believers will believe.  The doubters will doubt.
But still.


  1. "...Moore ruled that he would not permit defense witnesses to testify that the other suspect confessed to them."

    If you would be kind enough to indulge a non-lawyer's question, why would it be OK for the jury to hear from someone the defendant supposedly confessed to, but not from someone another suspect confessed to?

  2. As an abstract matter, you're asking about hearsay which involves a horribly complicated set of rules and also constitutional constraints. Largely because of all that complication, the hearsay rules are, I suspect, the most misunderstood and misapplied of the evidence rules. (OK, for you lawyers out there, maybe that's the other acts rule or when and how to impeach; it's not a contest.)

    Within the hearsay rules, statements by parties to a case are treated differently than statements by others. But, again, the rules are complicated and occur, too, within a set of constitutional constraints and opportunities.

    As a specific matter, I assume you're actually asking about the ruling in Troy Davis's case. I plucked that fact from a news report which didn't say why Judge Moore decided as he did. He may or may not have ruled based on the hearsay rules. And he may or may not have been legally correct.

    There's also an issue of fairness, of course, but the law - and this is true both in theory and in practice - often has at most a tenuous connection to that.

  3. Oh, and of course maybe it's just about getting the result the judge wants. Easier to say Davis didn't prove he was innocent if you keep out the evidence that someone else did it.