Lord, have mercy.
There has been a significant dust-up over the recent appeal of Alfred Dewayne Brown, who was convicted of capital murder back in 2005. In Harris County. In the courtroom of Judge Mark Kent Ellis.
At the time, Brown's alibi was that he had been sleeping at his girlfriend’s place and actually called her at work from the apartment’s landline at the same time prosecutors said he was with his accomplices after the crime. Sadly for him, his girlfriend was the prosecutor’s star witness and insisted that she had no idea if he’d left the apartment early enough to commit the crime.
He received the death sentence.
Until...strangely enough, evidence of that phone call he mentioned turned up in one of the homicide investigator’s garage. Huh. How weird. Mike Anderson, the D.A. at the time, agreed that Brown should receive a new trial.
From the Houston Chronicle’s article:
"I think there were a lot of records, and this got overlooked," said (Chief of the DA’s Post Conviction Writs Unit, Lynn) Hardaway, who still believes Brown is guilty. "It was one piece of paper."
But an innocent oversight is doubtful when you consider another document in the garage stack - one that shows one of the prosecutors had requested the records, apparently soon after Brown's girlfriend told the grand jury about the phone call.
So there’s that; mysteriously missing evidence that one might say tends to exonerate the defendant (excuse me, the condemned). And that sucks. But the girlfriend, Erika Dockery, testified against him; that not only was she not willing to vouch for his whereabouts that morning, but that he had admitted to her that he was involved in the crime.
Appellate attorneys were so outraged by a 146-page transcript of Dockery's testimony before the 208th Harris County grand jury on April 21, 2003, that they entered it into the public record for judges to review.
In it, grand jurors don't just inquire. They interrogate. They intimidate. They appear to abandon their duty to serve as a check on overzealous government prosecution and instead join the team.
In this transcript, Brown’s girlfriend testifies that Brown was in her house that morning; the Grand Jurors browbeat and intimidate this woman until she reverses herself, threatening her with charges of perjury, of prison, and most abominably, of ripping her away from her children. The quotes released so far read like a B-movie villain’s ultimatum; I swear to God, the phrase “Think about your kids, darling” is uttered.
The Grand Jury is supposed to be impartial; to hear the prosecutor’s reason for bringing charges, and then to decide if there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial. In this case, the Grand Jury destroyed testimony that, at the least, would have provided the police’s number one suspect with an alibi, and they did it in one of the most atrocious ways possible; by threatening to rip a mother and her children apart.