Texas Prisoner Seeks Stay of Execution Based on Claims of Innocence, Discriminatory Jury Selection, Junk Science
Alleging wrongful prosecution, Texas death row prisoner Terry Edwards (pictured), who is scheduled for execution on January 26, is seeking a stay of execution and an opportunity to present new evidence that his case was tainted by racially-discriminatory jury selection, prosecutorial misconduct, and false and misleading forensic testimony. Edwards was prosecuted by Dallas County assistant district attorney Thomas D'Amore, who, the defense says, was lead prosecutor in at least three other cases in which defendants were exonerated after similar misconduct was disclosed. The Dallas DA's office fired D'Amore in 2006. Edwards, who had no prior history of violence, says that he was not the triggerman in a robbery-murder that prosecutors say he committed with his cousin, and that the prosecution presented false expert testimony to bolster its claim that he was the killer. The cousin—who has an extensive history of violent recidivism—was charged with both murders but then permitted to plead guilty to only robbery, and is now eligible for parole. A state forensic analyst initially testified that no gunshot residue was detected on Edwards' hands when they were tested immediately after the crime. She changed her testimony on cross-examination, stating that one of three chemical elements associated with gunshot residue was found on Edwards hands and that he could have sweated or wiped away the other two. A former FBI agent who later reviewed the case has called that explanation "scientifically unsupportable," explaining that the components of gunshot residue increase or decrease together, and that particles from gunshot residue contain at least two of the three elements that are tested, making it impossible to wipe away two of the elements without wiping away the third. D'Amore and the same state forensic analyst were involved in the 1995 trial of Richard Miles, who was exonerated in 2012 after his lawyers found similar flaws in the analyst's forensic testimony. Defense lawyers also contend that D'Amore withheld evidence that eyewitnesses saw Edwards’ cousin inside the restaurant at the time of the murders and fleeing out the front door. Citing evidence strikingly similar to that presented in the recent Supreme Court case Foster v. Chatman, Edwards' lawyers also argue that his conviction by an all-White jury was the unconstitutional product of racial discrimination.
In Foster, the Court overturned a defendant's conviction after prosecutors were found to have marked Black potential jurors in their notes and removed all of them from the final jury. Prosecutors also struck all Black jurors in Edwards' case, and their jury selection notes contain a list with "a handwritten, encircled 'B'" next to 32 jurors' names, but jury questionnaires in the case have gone missing, leaving Edwards' attorneys without information on individual jurors' races. Just a week before Edwards' scheduled execution, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office denied Edwards the assistance of the Conviction Integrity Unit, blocking him from accessing resources intended specifically for the investigation of cases like his, where there is doubt about the validity of evidence. [UPDATE: Texas carried out the execution on January 26, 2017.]
(J. Stahl, "Is Texas About to Execute an Innocent Man?," Slate, January 23, 2017; B. Grissom, "Death row inmate seeks to halt execution for Dallas-area murders, alleges prosecutor misconduct," The Dallas Morning News, January 18, 2017; Press Release, "Attorneys for Terry Edwards Move Dallas County to Withdraw Thursday Execution Date," The Phillips Black Project, January 24, 2017.) Read the Emergency Motion to Withdraw or Modify Execution in State v. Edwards, No. F02-15086-N (195th Dist. Ct., Dallas County, Texas January 24, 2017) here. See Innocence, Race, and Prosecutorial Misconduct.