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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another Death Row Inmate Proved Innocent

Is the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice important?
Have innocent people been executed?
Is speedy justice in death penalty cases desireable?

L.A. Times of May 13, 2009 cites another in a long line of convictions which have been proved to be wrong by D.N.A. evidence which showed the condemned prisoner to have been innocent.

This one was from Tennessee. The inmate, Paul House, had been convicted of rape murder in 1985. He was a paroled rapist, who had been walking on a road near where the body was found. He "had no good" alibi - in other words couldn't prove his innocence.

Now, Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project obtained tests of hairs, semen and material from under the victim's fingernails. The semen proved to be her husband's, and DNA of someone other than House was found in the other material.

Nonetheless, the Tennessee appeals courts and Federal appeals courts all denied a new trial, finding that the new evidence still didn't conclusively prove House's innocence, which is the standard a habeas corpus claim must satisfy to overturn a conviction.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 vote authored by J. Kennedy ordered the reversal. Chief Justice Roberts dissented. The Times article notes that a 4-4 vote would have resulted in House's execution.

The local prosecutor has now declined to retry House, saying "the new evidence 'raises doubts about his culpability...'" He noted that DNA science was not available 24 years ago when House was convicted. However, he still believes "House knew something about the slaying, even if he was not the killer."

The Federal Public Defender commented: "He is conclusively innocent... If the state ... had its way in this case, he would have been dead 10 years ago."

1 comment:

  1. As bummed as I am sure Tennessee is about not getting to kill House, it looks like California might get to kill a (probably) innocent person. You may have already seen the Ninth Circuit's decision to deny en banc review in Cooper v. Brown. If not, Judge Fletcher's dissent from the en banc denial is worth a read. A really long read, as it is about 100 pages long.