Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Trial For Cory Maye!

Rather than use all caps in the title, I used an exclamation mark. It is indeed good news. The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered that Cory Maye be granted a new trial. I'm ecstatic.

Cory Maye, the subject of Book 2 in The Skeptical Juror series, was convicted and sentenced to death for the fatal shooting of Prentiss Police Officer Ron Jones during a late night drug raid in which only traces of marijuana were discovered. The other officers involved in the raid testified that Maye must have known the police were attempting to enter his half of the duplex. Maye claimed, however, that he never heard anyone identifying themselves as police or otherwise, that he shot at an intruder breaking through the rear door to defend himself and his infant daugther.

(In the book, I present a case that the police and other state actors may have conspired to use perjured testimony to extract their revenge on Cory Maye. I cannot prove that they did so, and I do not claim that they did so. I merely discuss the possibility. I leave it to the readers to decide whether the state witnesses were truthful with their testimony.)

During the appellate process, the death penalty was overturned and the state declined to retry the penalty phase. A new trial was later ordered on narrow grounds over a somewhat complicated change of venue issue. Both the defense and the prosecution appealed that decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The Mississippi Supremes ordered a new trial based not on venue, but on jury instructions.

Once again the grounds for reversal were narrow. The vote, however, was not. It's a bit confusing, but by my counting the vote seems to have been 5 to 2 for reversal. The complete ruling is here.

The question is what happens now. I anticipated a new trial and have already pre-speculated about it. I'll simply quote from the Postlude of The Skeptical Juror and The Trial of Cory Maye.
Not much has changed in Prentiss in the nine years since the shooting at the Mary Street duplex. Drugs are still a problem, the economy is still a basket case, and racial issues continue to divide the citizenry. The already sparse population has dropped by more than ten percent as people leave for greener, less troubled pastures.

Some things of course have changed, though their importance pales in comparison to all that Prentiss has lost. A memorial for Ron Jones sits in front of Prentiss Town Hall, and a portion of nearby U.S. Highway 84 is named in his honor. Road signs proclaim to those who pass that they are traveling on the Officer Ronald Wayne Jones Memorial Highway. It is small consolation for the loss of a dedicated police officer, a decent man, and a beloved son.

Perhaps next year, a new trial for Cory Maye will take place in the Jefferson Davis County Courthouse on Columbia Avenue, right in the heart of Prentiss. If so, the populace will divide again along racial lines, as they always have. The prosecution will attempt to to exclude blacks from the jury and the defense will try to stop them from doing so. Everyone will behave outwardly, at least, as if race isn't an issue. In some regards, things will be as they have always been in Prentiss.

In the new trial, however, Cory Maye wll be represented by a well-funded, well-prepared team of talented attorneys. The State of Mississippi, on the other hand, will attempt to hold together a bruised and battered prosecution theory that has been unraveling ever since Judge Eubanks passed sentence.
"All right. Then based upon the jury's verdict, I will sentence you to suffer death by lethal injection. All right. That will be the sentence of the Court."
This time Cory Maye's defense team will take the offense. The State of Mississippi will mount a vigorous fighting retreat. It's not clear either side will be able to secure a unanimous vote from the divided citizenry of Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi.

The two factions may instead elect to call a truce under terms that will allow each side to claim victory. I predict the State of Mississippi will offer Cory Maye a sentence of time served in exchange for a guilty plea to the crime of manslaughter. I predict Cory Maye will accept, and will walk free.

And I predict, sadly, that not much else will change in Prentiss, or Jefferson Davis County, or Mississippi.
Credit as always goes to Radley Balko (aka The Agitator) for being the writer who brought Cory Maye to national attention. I learned of the case from his writing. More significantly, Cory Maye's defense team learned of the case from his writing.

Credit also to Robert Evans, who lost his job as public defender because he agreed  to act as Cory Maye's appellate attorney.

Credit as well to Abraham Pafford, Benjamin Vernia, the law firm of Covington and Burling, and the many other talented and dedicated professionals who provided valuable, pro bono representation. As is the norm in such cases, the state actors will be fully paid for their efforts, paid out of the public treasury. The money needed to free someone wrongfully behind bars will come from private funds if it comes at all.

Credit finally for the folks at Reason Magazine for their support of Radley Balko and for their award winning documentary Mississippi Drug War Blues. This is a case worth understanding. It speaks to a number of problems we have in this country. You can come up to speed quickly by watching the video, narrated nicely by none other than Drew Carey. Great video.

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