In a 7-0 opinion with two judges not participating, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held on February 15, 2012 that a former prisoner who claimed exculpatory evidence was withheld in his case, and who raised a free-standing claim of actual innocence based on the recantation of the prosecution’s primary eyewitness and deficient forensics evidence, had proven that he was actually innocent.
Richard Ray Miles, Jr. was convicted of murder and attempted murder in 1995, and sentenced to forty years in prison. During the trial an eyewitness identified him as the person who shot and killed one victim and wounded another, and a forensic expert testified that he had gunshot residue on his hands when arrested about 25 minutes after the shooting at a Dallas gas station. The fact that Miles’ clothing did not match that of the shooter, and that he was left-handed while the shooter was right-handed, did not deter the prosecution. Miles filed an appeal alleging tainted identification by the eyewitness. His initial state habeas action was based on the withholding of a police report which identified other people as the potential shooter. Both were denied.
Centurion Ministries, a non-profit organization that works on wrongful convictions, became involved in Miles’ case. They filed a public records request with the Dallas Police Department for information related to the shooting. In the records that were produced they discovered two police reports which had been previously suppressed both at trial, despite a defense request for exculpatory information, and in response to two previous records request filed by Miles and his father. In one of the reports, a woman identified her former boyfriend as the shooter and said he had confessed the crime to her. The other police report detailed an armed confrontation between the victims and a third man, who was not Miles, five days before the fatal shooting occurred.
A criminalist reviewed the forensic expert’s trial testimony and determined she had twice stated that substances found on Miles’ hand – antimony and barium – were unique to gunshot residue. In fact, about 10% of the population has such residue without having fired a gun, as it can come from handling matches, car batteries or a gun that was previously fired and not cleaned.
Miles filed a subsequent state application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to Article 11.07, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, raising grounds of failure to produce the suppressed police reports, new standards for testing gunshot residue that rendered the original expert testimony unreliable, and actual innocence. The state stipulated to a Brady violation regarding the suppressed reports (Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963)), but continued investigating the other claims. The eyewitness then recanted his identification of Miles, saying he had told the prosecutor he could not identify the shooter but was instructed by the prosecutor to identify Miles and was told where Miles would be sitting in the courtroom. The state then stipulated that Miles was entitled to a new trial and did not oppose his petition seeking habeas relief based on actual innocence.
The appellate court held that Miles was entitled to file a subsequent writ application because the discovery of the suppressed police reports was new evidence discovered after he filed his initial application. The forensic expert who testified at trial admitted that her testimony was incorrect based on current standards, and that she would testify today that there was no gunshot residue. The court held that the suppressed reports were a Brady violation and that Miles had proven he was “actually innocent” of the crimes. Accordingly, his convictions were set aside. See: Ex parte Miles, 359 S.W.3d 647 (Tex.Crim.App. 2012).
While the appellate court’s ruling established Miles’ innocence, he had already been released on his own recognizance on October 19, 2009, based on the exculpatory evidence uncovered by Centurion Ministries. A week after the ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, District Judge Andy Chatham formally announced at a hearing that Miles was a “free man.”
“I want to thank my mom,” Miles said during the court hearing. “Every month for 15 years she came to see me.”
Miles’ attorney, Cheryl Wattley, is expected to file a complaint against Tom D’Amore, the former prosecutor who allegedly told the eyewitness to identify Miles at trial. “My life was taken because of malicious acts by a prosecutor and I can’t just let that go by,” Miles stated.
He is now eligible to receive compensation under a Texas statute that provides $80,000 and an annuity in an equal amount for each year he was incarcerated as a result of his wrongful conviction.
Additional sources: www.wfaa.com, www.centurionministries.org
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Related legal case
Ex parte Miles
|Cite||359 S.W.3d 647 (Tex.Crim.App. 2012)|
|Level||State Court of Appeals|