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“[He] would squeeze off a round into Mother Teresa.” That’s what Assistant District Attorney Jerry Harris said of Timothy McKinney in closing arguments at his capital trial, while sitting on exculpatory evidence that cast doubt on McKinney’s guilt.

Liliana Segura tells the story of Memphis prosecutors who vigorously  pursue shaky murder cases despite their own inability to follow the law. Read her piece in The Nation, published March 20, here.

Here’s an excerpt to pique your interest:

A white-haired firebrand of a lawyer, Henderson comes from the same generation of prosecutors as Jerry Harris, who sent McKinney to death row. In a fawning 2003 profile in The Commercial Appeal titled “Best in the Business,” Henderson is depicted as a swashbuckling crusader for justice who “wears his tough-guy image like a badge.” Harris, who worked with Henderson for decades, called him “relentless,” saying: “He once tried a weeklong case over an $8 credit-card fraud…like a murder case.” Twice, the profile marveled, he won murder trials in cases where no victim’s body was found.
 
In at least one of these cases, Henderson has been caught suppressing evidence, as Harris did in McKinney’s first trial. Last fall, a judge found that Henderson made “blatantly false” statements denying the existence of exculpatory evidence in the case of death row inmate Michael Rimmer, according to USA Today reporter Brad Heath. (Such lies are “typical” of Memphis prosecutors, a federal judge said in 2008.) In a pending bar complaint obtained by The Nation, Rimmer’s post-conviction attorney, Kelly Gleason, identifies other capital cases in which Henderson has hidden such evidence. Shelby County, which is responsible for more than a third of the state’s death sentences, has “vigorously defended the misconduct and continued to permit [him] to try capital cases,” she writes.
 
Like Rimmer’s case, McKinney’s lacks key physical evidence. No gun was ever found. No blood was discovered on McKinney’s clothes. His car was sold at police auction two months after the crime, before it could undergo forensic testing.
 
The case against McKinney hinges on eyewitness testimony—evidence whose extreme fallibility has become well-known since he was first convicted. Last year, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called it “staggering” that eyewitness misidentification was responsible for 76 percent of the first 250 wrongful convictions overturned through DNA.  
 
As McKinney goes on trial for a third time, the most pressing question apart from his guilt may be whether, in Shelby County, innocence matters. Says Gleason, “It’s very easy in Memphis for an innocent person to get convicted and not get released.”

 

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