In the past few years, we have seen a variety of news sources report about problems in crime labs and wrongful convictions. According to a recent news article from the Washington Post, a man has been released from Alabama's death row after spending over 30 years there, awaiting his execution.
Defendant was convicted in relation to the murder of two workers at a Birmingham, Alabama restaurant in 1985. There were no witnesses to the murders, no fingerprints connecting defendant to the crime scene, nor was there any other physical evidence tying defendant to the murders. The only evidence of defendant's alleged participation in these murders was ammunition and a gun located in defendant's home, which was questionably used to connect defendant to the murders.
For the past 30 years, defendant has protested his conviction and maintained his innocence, while his attorneys have questioned the link between the gun and the murder. It should also be noted, his mother owned the gun at issue in this case.
These doubts as to whether this gun was involved in the crime were increased when scientific ballistics testing also revealed issues in making a connection. There was also an issue as to whether the bullets used in the murder were even fired from a single gun
As our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys can explain, while many people believe ballistics is an accurate science, in reality, it is more akin to junk science used by prosecutors and writers of television shows to prove a particular bullet was fired from a specific gun. If you have been charged in connection with an assault involving a shooting, you should speak with an experienced attorney who is familiar with defending ballistic evidence.
The state's entire case was based upon this questionable ballistics evidence and the testimony of a witness who claimed to be present when defendant committed a similar crime for which he was never charged.
After defendant had appealed to the highest court in Alabama, the United States Supreme Court eventually agreed to hear his case. Last year, the Supreme Court unanimously held defendant's right to a fair trial had been violated. Specifically, his attorney at the time of trial had hired a civil engineer as an expert, because he was not to spend more than $1,000 on hiring a suitable expert. This made it extremely easy for Alabama state prosecutors to challenge defendant's expert at trial, since he was not trained in ballistics.
After the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, prosecutors rushed to find enough evidence to retry defendant. When prosecutors apparently realized they had no credible way to link defendant to the murders committed in 1985, they filed a motion to dismiss the case and dropped all charges against defendant.
Defendant's attorney was present at the prison when he was released from death row and freed from the prison. His attorney said defendant had spent over 30 years of his life behind bars waiting for the State of Alabama to kill him for a crime he never committed.
Alabama inmate free after three decades on death row. How the case against him unraveled, April 3, 2015, Washington Post