A now 33-year-old man is currently sitting on death row for a crime he and many others contend he did not commit. While in recent years the media has reported several cases with this similar scenario, in this specific case, the man’s criminal defense attorneys may be to blame.
Charged with murdering a police deputy in 2000, the man now faces an uphill legal battle as he attempts to appeal his case. Despite compelling evidence pointing to his innocence, including several witnesses who are willing to testify that another man has confessed to the murder, the judge presiding over the case cited that “federal law does not recognize actual innocence as a mechanism to overturn an otherwise valid conviction”.
An expected Supreme Court decision may hold the man’s last chance for justice. The ruling will decide whether a defendant has a constitutional right to adequate lawyers during the appeals process. During the first appeal of the ruling, the defendant’s attorney filed a poorly prepared application that contained little information specific to the defendant’s case. In 2006, this attorney asked to be removed by the court from a list of death penalty defense attorneys.
In 2007, another appellate attorney was assigned to the case, but he faced a difficult situation as the previous appellate attorney failed to present evidence asserting the defendant’s innocence during the initial appeals process. A judge denied the second appeal citing that evidence proving “claims of innocence and shoddy lawyering” were not sufficient to warrant a new trial.
Yet another appellate attorney is currently preparing the defendant’s third appeal and much will likely hinge on this attorney’s ability to convince the judge that both trial and appellate attorneys failed to present effective and compelling evidence on behalf of the defendant.
This case illustrates the importance of having a skilled and fully committed defense team, especially when facing charges as serious as murder.