Posts Tagged ‘Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’

Richard Masterson, 43, was pronounced dead at 6:53 p.m. on Jan. 20th, 25 minutes after being administered lethal injection drugs.

“I’m all right with this,” he said. “Sometimes you have to live and die by the choices you make. I made mine and I’m paying for it.”  He said he was being sent “to a better place.”

He told his loved ones that he loved them and mouthed them a kiss.  His relatives and friends watched the execution at the prison.  The victim’s friends and family did not attend the execution.  Masterson had claimed that the January 2001 strangulation death of Darin Shane Honeycutt was an accident and he had several appeals pending before courts including 4 with the U.S. Supreme Court, but efforts to get him a stay failed.

Texas is the nation’s busiest death penalty state carrying out 28% of last year’s executions.

Masterson testified that the death of Honeycutt, 35, was part of a sex act and was an accident.  The two had met in a bar earlier that evening.  Honeycutt was an entertainer who dressed as a woman for his performances and used the stage name Brandi Houston.

Masterson’s case is full of contradictions.  Court records show that Masterson confessed to police and also in a letter to the Texas Attorney General in 2012, “I meant to kill him.  It was no accident,” he wrote to Greg Abbott.  After the death, Masterson stole Honeycutt’s car and dumped it in Georgia. He was apprehended in Florida a week later with a different stolen car.  That car belonged to a Tampa man who testified that Masterson robbed him after a similar sex episode choking.

Masterson’s attorneys revealed that Harris County’s medical examiner had questionable credentials (more…)

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Steven Mark Chaney who was imprisoned for 28 years for the 1987 murders of two people in Dallas, TX was released this week after his conviction based upon discredited bite-mark evidence was thrown out.  Chaney was sentenced to life in prison after a forensic dentist told a Dallas jury in 1989 that there was a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that the murderer was someone other than Chaney.  The bite-marks were allegedly found on John Sweek.  The dentist has since recanted his testimony.  State District Judge Dominique Collins overturned Chaney’s conviction after receiving a joint request from the District Attorney Susan Hawk, the Innocence Project, and the Public Defender’s Office.

Chaney, 59, will remain free while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reviews the case.

“I could sit and recount all the wrongs,” Chaney told reporters, “The loss of my oldest stepson, my oldest grandchild two years ago, but this is a time for rejoicing…”

At least one juror after his initial trial said that the bite-mark evidence convinced them of Chaney’s guilt, despite testimony from 9 witnesses that he was somewhere else during the murders of John and Sally Sweek.  In recent years, forensic scientists have raised doubts about the reliability of bite mark evidence among others.  In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences published a report concluding that there was insufficient scientific basis to conclusively match bite marks to individuals.  The Texas Forensic Science Commission is reviewing cases in which bite analysis contributed to a conviction to determine whether they warrant further investigation.  In addition, defense lawyers also allege that prosecutors knowingly presented false evidence that blood had been found on Chaney’s shoes.  Prosecutors withheld notes from another expert who said that there was no blood.  They also say that prosecutors elicited false testimony from the co-worker of Chaney who initially told police that Chaney had asked him to tell authorities that he had last been at the victims’ home a week before their murder.  At trial, the co-worker told the jury that Chaney had asked him to be his alibi.  Chaney’s attorneys have filed court papers saying new evidence establishes he is innocent.

“We’re confident that when the reinvestigation is complete, the district attorney’s office will be in a position to formally agree that he is innocent of this crime,” said Julie Less, exoneration attorney for the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office, in a statement.

Sources:  Independent  |  Wrongful Convictions Blog

PENNSYLVANIA WOMAN GETS NEW TRIAL AFTER BITE-MARK ANALYSIS CALLED JUNK SCIENCE BY STATE’S OWN EXPERT (more…)

Linda Carty, a death row inmate in Texas, has been granted a rare new hearing by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Carty, 56, has been on death row for nearly 14 years.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to assess claims that key witnesses in her trial lied on the witness stand because of prosecutorial pressure. Human rights charity Reprieve has been investigating Carty’s case and unearthed evidence that witnesses were threatened by the prosecutor into testifying that Carty was the mastermind in the murder of her neighbor. Carty was convicted of killing a young mother and plotting to steal her small child with three men.  She has always maintained her innocence.

Among the witnesses who are now recanting their testimony is Christopher Robinson, who claimed that he saw Linda Carty put a bag over Joanna Rodriguez’s head before closing the trunk.  Rodriguez later suffocated to death.  He now says that the prosecutors “threatened me and intimidated me”.  He says that he never saw Linda Carty kill anyone.

Michael Goldberg, a Baker Botts civil attorney who represents Carty pro bono, said he hopes that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office will provide its full cooperation to determine if witnesses were coached by prosecutors.

Along with that witness, a DEA agent says that he was threatened by prosecutors after he confronted them about their unethical interrogation of Carty.

Both assistant district attorneys involved in the Carty case still work for Harris County, one still tries death penalty cases.

“The entire…team is so happy that Linda is finally going to have her first real day in court,” said Goldberg, a civil attorney who learned of the victory while meeting with clients on another case.  Goldberg estimates that the firm has invested more than $1 million in volunteer work for Carty’s defense, “We are looking forward to working with the DA’s office to see if we can do an investigation together to get to the truth.”

Roe Wilson, an assistant district attorney who supervises capital appeals, said county officials already had begun to probe three different claims of prosecutorial misconduct, “We’ll just continue the investigation until we’ve gotten everything that we can possibly get.” After the prosecution files a response to the request by the court to investigate these claims, Judge Ryan Patrick will decide whether to hold a court hearing or rule on the written arguments.

British attorney Clive Stafford Smith, who has followed Carty’s appeals for years, said he hopes her case gets more scrutiny, “Britain has a very close relationship with Texas, and I think I can speak for everyone in the UK when I say that we are grateful to the Court of Criminal Appeals for doing the right thing here. The state witnesses now admit that they lied at trial, and surely we don’t execute people based on confessed perjury.”

Carty is one of about two dozen death row inmates who asked the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals for unusual authorization to pursue a second – or even third round – of state appeals in 2014. But she is one of only two such defendants to receive a favorable ruling.

The other capital case, Rob Will II’s case was based upon evidence that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence that proved someone else murdered the sheriff’s deputy.  Last month, a Harris County judge denied the hearing and sent the case back to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Both the Will and Carty prosecutions were overseen by former District Attorney Charles Rosenthal, who left office in 2008 in a scandal over racist, sexual, and political e-mails he wrote while on the job.