In a perfect world, innocence would be enough to ensure that a person walks free.
But this world isn’t perfect and our criminal justice system, while among the best in the world, is far from that standard.
Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyersknow that in obtaining an acquittal, actual innocence certainly helps – but it’s not the only factor.
Recently, a former police officer from New Mexico was acquitted of the murder of his wife, who was reportedly shot in the mouth with her estranged husband’s department-issued gun. This would almost seem to be a slam-dunk case for the prosecution.
No doubt, the defense team had an uphill battle.
But there was more to the case than what initially met the eye. Parsing what was relevant and what wasn’t proved tough for the jury. In the end, only some of the available evidence made it to the jury’s ears, as defense attorneys were successful in having much of it suppressed.
For one thing, the estranged wife in this case was depressed.
Yet, the prosecutors had attempted to assert that the motive had to do with the fact that the wife allegedly had planned to report her husband’s staged theft of a truck for insurance money. However, all evidence pertaining to that situation was ultimately suppressed by the court per a defense motion, meaning jurors never heard it.
Still, evidence was allowed into the case that detailed affairs allegedly carried on by both parties, who both worked at the police department in different capacities.
The defendant took the stand and even acknowledged having a number of mistresses. He conceded that he had searched the internet for information on how to kill someone with martial arts. He also admitted he had ignored his wife’s calls for help. There were even reports that officers responding the home removed certain pieces of evidence and may have even flushed some of it down the toilet.
Defense lawyers still insisted that the gunshot wound suffered by the wife was self-inflicted.
In the end, the jury deliberated 10 hours before ultimately finding the defendant not guilty.
This case is a perfect example of how sometimes the evidence isn’t black-and-white. We don’t live our lives expecting to go on trial for murder, so we don’t tally our every move as having the potential to end up scrutinized by a jury. But it absolutely can, and it doesn’t always look good, even when you are innocent.
It often comes down to the skill of your defense lawyer, which is why it’s so critical to hire one with proven experience.
Some in Alabama have come to find this out the hard way. Take the case of Antonio Williams, the Birmingham man who was convicted of raping a 6-year-old girl. He served four years, six months and 26 days in prison before a judge ruled that he was in fact innocent.
He had been accused of sexual assault upon his daughter’s half-sister, whom he often helped to care for and bathe. The allegations surfaced after it was revealed the girl suffered from a sexually transmitted disease. The girl told authorities it was Williams who touched her. At the time, the girl’s father was attempting to get custody of her and Williams was trying to get custody of his own daughter.
Even after he was arrested, a detective close to the case told him “not to worry,” as he didn’t believe he was guilty. But he was indicted by a grand jury. He was put on trial. There was no DNA evidence. No physical evidence. No eyewitnesses. Just the word of one little girl who had clearly been abused at some point and was living amid highly dysfunctional adults.
He was unanimously convicted. He was sentenced to life in prison.
It wasn’t until the alleged victim recently became a teenager and changed her story – drastically – that the course of his fate changed. She came forward to say it was another man who had sexually abused her, a version of events backed by her older half-sister. It was later revealed that, from the outset, the victim was a reluctant witness. She said she felt pressured – by family members, police and prosecutors – to press forward with her faulty testimony.
The girl reportedly told her stepmother after the trial that Williams was not the culprit. However, her stepmother never took any steps to relay that information to authorities.
The defense lawyer who initially represented Williams reportedly overlooked key interviews with the victim conducted back in 2003, in which she outright said Williams never inappropriately touched her.
In this case, innocence wasn’t enough. In the end, sometimes a good attorney is your last best hope.