Sunday, September 07, 2008

Habeas corpus motion a tool to free the innocent

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan, the same judge handling the still pending habeas motion filed by Joshua C. Kezer in the 1992 killing of Angela Mischelle Lawless, granted the same kind of motion this week in a St. Louis wrongful conviction case. According to Casenet, Callahan granted the motion in a suit filed by attorneys for Darryl Burton, a man sentenced to life without parole for the 1984 slaying of Donald Ball at a St. Louis gas station. Casenet indicated the order granting the motion had already been faxed to Jefferson City Correctional Center, but I found out too late in the day to reach anyone to confirm whether Burton would be released.

Like Kezer's case, physical evidence failed to link Burton to the homicide, and according to a 2002 appellate opinion, the prosecution's case hinged on eyewitness testimony. Another similarity: Burton's attorneys argued that the state violated Brady Vs. Maryland by failing to disclose a deal made with an eyewitness to testify in exchange for leniency on an unrelated stealing charge. Kezer's attorneys have argued that a police report casting doubt on the credibility of an eyewitness placing Kezer near the crime scene was not disclosed to defense.

In that court opinion, U.S. Court of Appeals Circuit Judge Kermit E. Bye wrote that habeas motions provide "an additional safeguard against compelling an innocent man to suffer an unconstitutional loss of liberty." "One cannot read the record in this case without developing a nagging suspicion that the wrong man may have been convicted of capital murder and armed criminal action in a Missouri courtroom," the opinion said.

The motion was denied then, on the grounds that Burton failed to prove his legal claims for relief, but Bye wrote that the facts of the case suggested possible innocence. "With no small degree of reluctance, we deny Burton a writ," the opinion says.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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