Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Who Killed Melissa Trotter? Introduction

In my series The Most Innocent Man on Death Row, I make my case that Larry Swearingen could not have killed Melissa Trotter. Swearingen was, to a medical certainty, in jail when Melissa was murdered. Given that Texas now intends to execute him on 27 February for her murder, and given that I believe I may know who actually killed her, I need to reveal what I have recently learned, quickly and comprehensively.

I believe Anthony Allen Shore murdered Melissa Trotter. I believe I can make a compelling argument that he did so, and I can propose a test that might (repeat might) confirm my conclusion. To understand why I believe Anthony Shore is Melissa's killer, you must first understand him. This post is therefore the first in yet another series of unknown length. You'll have to be patient, and I'll need be prompt. Another innocent man's life is at stake.

Anthony Allen Shore is a serial killer now on Texas Death row. I learned of him as I was working on Preston  Hughes' post-mortem. Hughes died in part because the city of Houston failed to act on the recommendations of its own independent investigator. The city of Houston commissioned Michael R. Bromwich to investigate the serious problems at Houston's Police Department crime lab. In 2007, Bromwich and his well-staffed investigative team published their final report: Final Report of the Independent Investigator for the Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory and Property Room.

I will hereafter refer to Bromwich and his team as the Bromwich Team or simply as the Team.

In their 400 page report, the Bromwich Team identified more than 200 Texas' convicts having "major issues" associated with the work of the Houston PD crime lab, hereafter referred to simply as the crime lab. The Team listed the names of those prisoners in the appendices to their report. If you check Page 4 of Appendix D, you'll find Preston's name there, third from the top of the page. Now if you check on Page 1 of that same appendix, you find the name of Anthony Allen Shore halfway down the page.

The Bromwich Team made a series of recommendations applicable to all cases they identified has having "major issues." In summary, those recommendations were that each person be notified that the team had identified forensic problems with their case, that each person be assigned a special master to review all aspects of their case, and that DNA testing be conducted whenever possible at no cost to the prisoner.

In response to the recommendations of the its own independent investigator, the City of Houston did nothing. They simply washed their hands of all those cases the lab may have already screwed up, and focused on preventing problems in the future. The city argued that it was not their job to correct any errors, that the responsibility rested with the District Attorneys Office. The District Attorneys Office didn't see it that way, and innocent people languished in prison.

As it turns out, a jury also didn't see it the same way as the City of Houston. If you look on Page 5 of Appendix D, about half way down, you'll see the name of George Rodriguez. It turns out he was one of the 10% or so on the list that were actually innocent. No thanks to the City of Houston, or the Houston PD, or the Harris County DA's Office, George Rodriguez was exonerated by the work of The Innocence Project. He sued the City of Houston because of the corrupt work of its crime lab in general and James Bolding in particular. The jury awarded him $5 million. He settled for $3 million.

Presumably the City Houston now understands that they cannot dodge responsibility for their crime lab. They ignore past cases at their peril.

Another innocent person in the list was Preston Hughes. The City of Houston never notified him that an independent investigator had identified "major problems" with the forensic work in his case. I notified him when I learned of the report.

The City of Houston never assigned him a special master to review his case from beginning to end. I acted as his special master, as best I could.

The City of Houston certainly didn't identify and pay for any DNA testing that might have proven him innocent. I prepared the Chapter 64 motion to have the killer's DNA compared against Preston's DNA.

The City's failure to act was the basis of the 28 U.S.C. federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Houston that I prepared for Preston. Though Houston had just recently settled with George Rodriguez (and thereby admitted its responsibility), and though the City was aware of the egregious circumstances of Preston's conviction (via the law suit and presentations to the city council), the City did nothing. They simply waited for the plaintiff to be executed, hoping that would spare them any further trouble.

I assure the City of Houston that it will not.

In summary, the failure of anyone in authority to seriously consider the merits of Preston's claims of actual innocence constitutes an ineradicable stain on our country's justice system. Furthermore, it pissed me off something fierce. I have therefore decided that in 2013, I will attempt to notify each prisoner on the list that Houston's own independent investigator found major problems with the crime lab work in his case. I will notify each prisoner as well that the city of Houston is obliged to appoint a special master to review the prisoner's case from beginning to end, and to conduct DNA testing as appropriate, all at no cost to the prisoner. I will notify each prisoner that the City of Houston already settled for $3 million with one prisoner who was on the list and exonerated in spite of Houston's failure act on his case.

It was under those circumstances that I learned of Anthony Allen Shore. I decided to first contact those prisoners on the list who were on death row. As I looked into each case, I was shocked to learn that Anthony Shore may have killed Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor.

That's right. Not only do I think it likely that Anthony Shore murdered Melissa Trotter, I think there is a lesser possibility that he killed Shandra Charles and Marcell Taylor. I'll explain why in my next post, hopefully to be completed tomorrow. Time is short.