A number of murder convictions have been overturned around the country in recent weeks due to prosecutorial misconduct.
The first is the murder conviction of Jeffrey Martinson out of Maricopa County, Arizona. County Attorney Bill Montogmery has been at the center of controversy over wrongful convictions in recent weeks following a four-part series by Michael Kiefer of the Arizona Republic which found that there were more cases of prosecutorial misconduct in capital cases out of Montgomery’s office than in all of the other county prosecutor offices in Arizona combined. Nevertheless, Montgomery recently tried to prevent the Arizona Supreme Court from adopting a new provision on the special role of prosecutors which would obligate prosecutors to disclose evidence of wrongful conviction and follow up that disclosure with an investigation into the defendant’s possible actual innocence. In opposing the adoption of the new provision, Montgomery’s office asserted that there is “no convincing evidence that Arizona has a ‘problem’ of wrongful convictions” or that “prosecutors have failed to take corrective action when appropriate.”
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge seemed to disagree on Monday when she barred Montgomery’s office from retrying Martinson for murder because the prosecutors in the case used a “win-by-any-means strategy” the first time around. The judge made the following ruling:
“The Court finds that the Prosecutors committed misconduct by purposefully pursuing an alternate theory of culpability for which the defendant had not been charged. As more fully described in this ruling, the Prosecutors charged the defendant with felony murder but also sought to convict him of intentional murder, an uncharged theory. This conduct violates the Defendant’s Federal and State Constitutional rights. See State v. Martin, 679 P.2d 489 (Ariz.Sup. Ct. 1984).”
Martinson’s prosecution was led by Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Frankie Grimsman.
In Tennessee, a death row inmate named Ronnie Cauthern had his conviction vacated on Nov. 14 after an appellate court found that the prosecutor in the case had used improper arguments during a resentencing hearing. According to the Associated Press:
Assistant Attorney General Steve Garrett cited the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy For The Devil,” and referenced Dahmer, a Wisconsin man convicted of killing and eating parts of his victims. The prosecutor also repeatedly referred to Cauthern as “the evil one.”
“The evil one took the name of Ronnie Cauthern on that day,” Garrett said. “That was his name, and he’s beyond redemption.”
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals called Garrett’s remarks “outlandish” and gave the state 6 months to hold a resentencing hearing for Cauthern or his death sentence would be vacated.
Lastly, a Wyoming man has won a new trial, also in a murder case, after the Wyoming Supreme Court found that prosecutors in the case misled the jury when stating that it was illegal to shoot an unarmed man; referred to the deceased as “the victim” despite having been told by the judge to use his name throughout the trial; and stating that the defendant assaulted the deceased first without presenting any evidence to support that claim. The defendant relied on a theory of self-defense during trial.
The prosecutors in the case were Fremont County and Prosecuting Attorney Brian Varn and Deputy County Attorney Kathy Kavanagh.
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