Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Innocent on Texas Death Row

While working on my not-quite-ready-for-primetime book on Rick Perry, I ran each of the people on Texas death row through my coarse filter. Of the 300+ cases I reviewed, I found 23 that I think have a reasonable possibility of being factually innocent. I've listed the 23 below, in order of their last name. I've included with each a one-paragraph summary of the case.

In addition to Larry Swearingen and Hank Skinner, of whom I have written extensively, three cases struck me as particularly interesting.

The Delma Banks case has elements of both Byron Case and Larry Swearingen. The time of death indicators (which I understand because of my work with Byron Case) prove that Delma Banks could not have committed the crime. In both the Banks and Swearingen cases, the state provided the defendant an alibi. In Swearingen's case, the State had him in jail when the science said the victim died. In the Banks case, the State's own informants placed Banks far from the crime scene when the science said the victim died.

The Darlie Routier case struck me as more interesting this time around. I've read about it before, but was generally unpersuaded by her claims of innocence. However, I listened this time to the call she placed to 911. I'm not claiming that someone can't fake a such a call, though the Melendez brothers couldn't. And I'm not claiming that I could detect a good fake. Listening to the call, however, tended to make me believe her more than I had previously. You can listen to the call here.

Also, with respect to Routier, I now notice a claim that (at least some of) the state investigators took the Fifth during their cross-examination by Routier's attorneys. That makes me suspicious as hell since the case against her consists of inconsistencies between her story and the evidence as compiled and told by the investigators. I need to know a lot more about Routier's case before taking a firm position, but I admit to being more curious now.

The third case of particular interest to me at the moment is Preston Hughes III. A reader took me up on my request that one of you look into that case, and he has delivered a first draft of his findings. We both agree he has more work to do, but that is another interesting case.

Without further ado, I present my list of 23 people on Texas death row who I believe might be factually innocent.

Delma Banks, Jr.
Based on the victim's state of rigor and the victim's lack of corneal cloudiness, the victim in this case was murdered when Delma Banks was 180 miles away from the crime scene. The State simply failed to attribute any significance to the time-of-death indicators.

Lester Leroy Bower
Lester Bower is accused of killing four people, execution-style, in an aircraft hanger. There were no fingerprints, no witnesses, no murder weapon, and no confession to place him at scene of the crime. Four alternative suspects were identified post-conviction by an ex-girlfriend of one of them. Bower's defense has been attempting secure evidence from the State to see if items from crime scene include DNA from any of the alternative suspects.

Alfred Dewayne Brown
Brown is accused of being the third culprit in a store robbery that led to the death of two police officers. He was convicted primarily on the testimony of an accomplice who escaped the death penalty for his testimony. The accomplice testimony was corroborated by a jailhouse snitch who was released almost immediately after claiming Brown had confessed to her.  [UPDATE: Exculpatory evidence has recently been discovered in the garage of one of the homicide investigators who investigated the case.]

David Lynn Carpenter
Carpenter was accused of slashing a woman's throat for hire. He was convicted based on the testimony of his ex-girlfriend and a tainted photo lineup conducted seven years after the crime.

Cesar Fierro
Cesar Fierro was accused of murdering a cab driver in the border town of El Paso. He was convicted based primarily on his confession. To force Fierro to confess, the El Paso police coordinated with the police in Juarez, Mexico. The Juarez police took Fierro's parents into custody and threatened to torture them unless Fierro confessed. The appellate courts agreed that Fierro's confession was extracted by threats of torture, but declared the police behavior to be a harmless error.

Charles Don Flores
Flores was accused of killing an elderly woman during a home invasion robbery. He was convicted based on purchased testimony and on a photo lineup ID made by a woman. The woman could identify Flores only after being subjected to hypnosis.

Tony Egbuna Ford
Ford was accused of committing murder during a home invasion robbery. He was convicted based on being selected from a photo line-up by two surviving victims of the attack. Ford concedes he drove the two brothers to the crime scene, not knowing of their plans to harm anyone. Ford looks remarkably like the brother who was not charged in the case.

Cathy Lynn Henderson
Henderson was accused of murdering a 3-month-old she was babysitting. She was convicted based on testimony that the fatal injury could not have occurred by inadvertently dropping the baby on its head, as Henderson claimed. That expert later recanted his testimony, citing “a greater understanding of pediatric head trauma and the extent of the injuries that can occur in infants.”

Preston Hughes, III
Hughes was accused of murdering a young woman and her younger cousin during an attempted rape. Though no physical evidence tied him to the crime, he was convicted based on the strength of two confessions. Hughes claims each of the confessions were coerced. Given that each of the confessions contradicts the other, Hughes has a prima facie case that at least one of his confessions is false.

William Irvan
Irvan was accused of murdering his lover. He was convicted based on the presence of his sperm and the testimony of a snitch. Bloody fingerprints found at the crime scene, however, did not belong to him or the victim.

George Edward McFarland
McFarland was accused of murdering a store owner during a substantial cash transfer. No physical evidence tied him to the crime. None of his alleged accomplices testified against him or were even charged. He was convicted solely on the testimony of an eyewitness and a nephew. The eyewitness initially described the shooter as someone substantially shorter and lighter than McFarland. The nephew, who testified only that his uncle had lots of money after the murder, received a crime-stoppers reward and leniency for his own robbery case. After the trial, the nephew recanted his testimony.

Anthony Shawn Medina
Medina was accused of being the shooter in a drive-by shooting in which two children were killed. Though his fingerprints were not found on the murder weapon or in the car used for the crime, he was convicted based on the testimony of four witnesses.

Pablo Melendez, Jr.
Melendez was accused of shooting a man waiting for a drug drop. He was convicted based on the testimony of fellow gang member whose brother matched the description given by a witness to the shooting. A photo of Melendez, not shown during the guilt phase of Melendez' trial, shows that Melendez in no way matched the description of the shooter.

Louis Castro Perez
Perez was accused of killing two women and a girl. He was convicted based on his bloody palm print at the crime scene, scratches on his body, and his DNA under the fingernails of the girl. Perez admits to being at scene, discovering the bodies and fleeing due to fear of being accused. Perez claims the girl scratched him as he cradled her in his arms. Other DNA evidence at the scene points to someone other than Perez.

Charles Douglas Raby
Raby was accused of stabbing an elderly woman 15 times. No physical evidence tied him to the crime. He was convicted based on a false confession and shoddy work by the infamous Houston PD crime lab. Post-trial DNA testing of the victim's fingernail scrapings excluded Raby as her assailant.

Rodney Reed
Reed was accused of killing a woman after raping her. He was convicted based on the presence of his semen in her body and based on a previous denial that he knew her. After his arrest, Reed claimed he and the victim had been having an affair. Other DNA evidence withheld from the defense tended to exclude Reed as the killer. Evidence developed post trial points to the victim's husband as the killer.

Darlie Lynn Routier
Routier was accused of killing her children and staging a home invasion to cover the crime. She was convicted because the crime scene evidence allegedly contradicted her version of events. The investigators, however, invoked their Fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination when they were cross-examined by Routier's attorney. Post-trial, a fingerprint expert identified a bloody fingerprint from the scene as belonging to an unknown adult. Also post-trial, Darlie's husband conceded he searched for someone to burglarize the house so that he could benefit from an insurance scam.

Henry Watkins Skinner
Skinner was accused of murdering his live-in girlfriend and her two grown children. He was convicted based on his presence at the scene at the time of the murder and based on the inculpatory statements of a neighbor. Skinner has always maintained he was too intoxicated to have committed the murders. Bloody bootprints and a hand print at the scene point to an assailant other than Skinner. Post-trial investigations identified the girlfriend's uncle as a viable alternative suspect. Post-trial DNA testing of hairs clutched in the girlfriend's hand excluded Skinner. The State refuses to allow testing of other DNA evidence.

Max Soffar
Soffar is accused of killing three youths in a bowling alley. He was convicted based on multiple, nonsensical confessions. After his trial, a serial murderer imprisoned in Tennessee for killing seven people was identified by a witness as the man who had threatened to shoot people the bowling alley, on the very day of the shooting. The serial murderer had previously been in Texas.

Larry Ray Swearingen
Swearingen was accused of murdering a female college student. Her body was found more than three weeks later in a nearby forest. He had been in jail for three weeks before her body was discovered. He was convicted based on incriminating evidence found in or near his home, and because the medical examiner testified the victim died on the same day she disappeared. Multiple pathologists later determined that the victim died within days of her body being discovered. The medical examiner recanted her testimony regarding the date of death. Larry Swearingen, as it turns out, had been in jail for three weeks before the victim was murdered.

Manuel Velez
Velez was accused of killing the one-year-old son of his live-in girlfriend by striking the boy in the head. He was convicted based on the testimony of the girlfriend who said Velez was alone with the baby when the baby was injured. The State withheld from the defense that the girlfriend had already pled guilty to striking the boy in the head on the day he died.

Jorge Villanueva
Villanueva was accused of strangling and bludgeoning his 77-year-old female neighbor. He was convicted based on an allegedly coerced confession and more shoddy work by the Houston PD crime lab. Post-trial testing has revealed that the DNA results used to convict Villanueva would also have matched 136,000 other people in the county as well. His defense is attempting to conduct DNA testing on two pubic hairs found at the crime scene that were dissimilar from those of both the victim and Villanueva.

David Leonard Wood
Wood was accused of killing six women and burying them in the desert around El Paso. He was convicted based on the testimony of three snitches, a ball of orange fibers, and the testimony of a woman who claims he tried to rape and murder her in a similar fashion to the others. Wood's DNA was not found on any of the victims. The DNA of an unknown person, however, was found on at least one of the victims. A post-trial witness claimed the near-victim who testified against Wood lied in exchange for reduced sentencing for another crime. The same post-trial witness provided the name of a viable alternate culprit