Jessie Dotson, a man sentenced to death for killing six people in 2008 in the Binghampton neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee, has filed a petition for a writ of a habeas corpus asking a judge to vacate his conviction and death sentence. His petition alleges that he is innocent, that police coerced him to falsely confess, and that a number of prosecutorial and defense errors occurred at trial. Mr. Dotson has been on death row since 2008, when he was sentenced to death for the murders of four adults, including his brother, and two children. Three additional children survived the attacks despite sustaining injuries. One of the three survivors, Mr. Dotson’s 9-year-old nephew, C. J. Dotson, identified him as the attacker, providing critical eyewitness testimony that defense counsel now say was unreliable.

Mr. Dotson’s appeal identifies several trial errors in addition to the ineffective assistance of his counsel. Defense counsel now argue that the killings occurred as part of a gang retaliation, noting that some of the victims were armed and that Mr. Dotson’s brother had crossed gang members from the Gangster Disciples. The petition alleges that the crime scene was characteristic of a “total blackout order,” which is an order to kill a target’s entire family. With this evidence pointing away from Mr. Dotson, the petition also alleges that police intentionally ignored and did not share information with the defense that supported this theory.

Of the 468 exhibits introduced at trial, none were linked to Mr. Dotson through DNA testing.  Prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of C.J. Dotson, who was stabbed in the head during the killings but survived his wounds. He would eventually name Mr. Dotson as the person responsible for the killings, but Mr. Dotson’s new filings argue that C.J.’s memory had been “tampered” with by police officers and that he was not in the right state of mind to identify anyone. The petition also points to C.J.’s medical records indicating he was on “mind-altering medications” when he was interviewed, including morphine, propofol, and hydrocodone and fentanyl. During C.J.’s first interview with a trained forensic child advocate, he named two separate people as suspects and repeated what he heard the suspects say. That interview was not completed because the advocate believed that C.J. was too distressed to continue. In violation of established protocol, police Sergeant Caroline Mason then questioned C.J., and the petition alleges the Sgt. Mason told C.J. about gifts he would receive if he named a suspect. Linda Steele, an FBI expert, interviewed C.J. four days after he spoke with Sgt. Mason, yet her report was never disclosed to the defense. Prosecutors also failed to disclose to Mr. Dotson’s trial attorneys that C.J.’s psychologist said the child’s memory was unreliable.

Mr. Dotson’s petition also describes the seven-hour-interrogation he endured while being “sleep deprived and psychologically manipulated,” all the while maintaining his innocence. At several points, Mr. Dotson invoked his right to remain silent and asked for an attorney, which the police repeatedly ignored as they continued the interrogation. The petition details that

“Over the course of the evening, Lt. Armstrong threatened to arrest Jessie’s mother, Priscilla Shaw, and sister, Nicole Dotson. He threatened to kill Jessie. He threatened to put Jessie in general population with the Gangster Disciples in the jail at 201 Poplar and let them kill him. He lied to Jessie and told him that they had Jessie’s footprints in blood at the [crime] scene. He made promises to Jessie, but told him he had to hurry or else Lt. Armstrong couldn’t help him. And then, he repeatedly played the tape of C.J. [Dotson], saying that Jessie did it. Jessie broke. He confessed.”

Despite this confession, much of Mr. Dotson’s statements do not align with the crime scene evidence. The information elicited in Mr. Dotson’s confession came from information provided to him by police. Defense counsel further allege that Mr. Dotson was not made aware of his Miranda rights before he signed his “confession.”