A pattern that sometimes emerges in cases with issues of prosecutorial misconduct is that they are built solely through witness testimony. This can be problematic, especially when the witnesses are rewarded for their testimony and those rewards aren’t fully disclosed, or when witness statements reflect inconsistencies that are not adequately tested by cross-examination in front of the jury. All of these problems are present in the case of Sherman Fields, a prisoner on federal death row.
Attorneys for Mr. Fields have also been denied some of their requests for discovery materials, which has greatly hampered their ability to understand what the full scope of misconduct in this case may be. Mr. Fields’ recent habeas petition, below, with the United States District Court for the Western Division of Texas, Waco Division, provided the ideal opportunity for the courts to ensure that all the relevant information was provided and evaluated by the courts. But that petition was denied, by the same judge who presided over Mr. Fields’ criminal trial.
Mr. Fields is a Texas man who was allowed to represent himself at his own capital trial. He was convicted and sentenced to death despite the fact that there is no forensic evidence of any kind tying him to the crime he was convicted of. Instead, the government’s case against Mr. Fields relies heavily on the inconsistent statements of snitch witnesses who testified in exchange for plea deals. According to Mr. Field’s habeas petition, some of these deals were disclosed at the time of trial, but two key pieces of exculpatory evidence in the case relating to testimony was unconstitutionally withheld from Mr. Fields, in violation of Brady v. Maryland. Additionally, the government failed to correct a witness who testified on the stand that he had no plea deal, when there was in fact a plea deal in place.
In September 2001, Mr. Fields was detained for a federal firearms violation. After bribing a guard, he escaped and visited a girlfriend. Tragically, she was murdered. There is no forensic evidence tying Mr. Fields to her death, and he has persistently sought DNA testing in the habeas petition, which the government has opposed. The government’s case against Mr. Fields involved seven jailhouse snitch witnesses, most of whom received reductions in sentencing.
One of the government’s key witnesses was Edward Outley. When Mr. Outley was asked on the stand whether he was receiving consideration for his testimony, he said “No. The government hasn’t made me any promises.” (p.148). As highlighted in Mr. Fields’ habeas petition, this statement was false. A letter addressed to Mr. Outley’s attorney revealed that the government would guarantee Mr. Outley derivative use immunity for any crimes he testified about, “except for perjury or otherwise making a false statement.” (p. 148) The government let Mr. Outley’s false answer stand uncorrected, and his affidavit obtained after the trial reveals that he actually received full immunity in exchange for his testimony, a broader consideration than was previously known.
A jailhouse snitch in the case, Homero DeLeon, had a history of exchanging testimony for reductions in jail time, including working with the same prosecutor involved in Mr. Fields’ case. In his trial testimony, for which he received a ten-month sentence reduction, Mr. DeLeon provided extensive detail about Mr. Fields’ role in the crime. However, in the notes from prosecutors’ earlier interviews with him, he was unable to provide any detail about Mr. Fields’ role in the crime. Mr. DeLeon states that he wrote and shared with prosecutors ten to eleven pages of notes that purportedly reflect his conversations with Mr. Fields. These notes have never been disclosed to Mr. Fields.
Homer DeLeon’s notes are critical evidence in this case, both because they may reveal possible issues of Mr. DeLeon’s credibility and even more importantly because they also provide proof of Mr. Fields’ theory of the case, that the government’s case against him is built on false testimony that has been rewarded. Thus, Mr. DeLeon’s notes could provide the necessary thread that could unravel the case against Mr. Fields, which he believes represents a conspiracy to murder him.
There are serious questions about the constitutional reliability of Mr. Fields’ conviction and death sentence. Our criminal justice system depends on checks and balances, yet in Mr. Fields’ case, the same judge presided over his criminal trial and his habeas proceedings, and declined to grant critical discovery which may have revealed exculpatory evidence. Mr. Fields will soon bring his case before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will have the opportunity to ensure that information is properly shared, according to the constitution. However, based on what is already known about this case, a new evidentiary hearing, with all the information available, is needed to ensure a fair outcome.
Read the habeas petition here: Fields Habeas Pettition