In another of the myriad recent cases to shed light on the corruption surrounding the use of snitch/informant testimony, a conviction for a 2008 murder in Champaign County has been overturned based on the lies two informants told on the stand denying they had received any consideration from the state for their testimony.
According to the News-Gazette, Judge Harry Clem granted Demarco Taylor, now 24, a new trial after finding that Assistant State’s Attorney Dan Clifton had failed to correct the record during trial “when two jailhouse snitches who testified against Taylor lied to a jury,” saying they had been given no promises of leniency from Clifton in their own pending cases. Taylor was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
The paper quotes from Judge Clem’s opinion:
Both Howard and Ayres [the informants] were essential witnesses for the People at trial. No forensic evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA, connected Defendant (Taylor) to the James Ellis murder. Howard’s testimony placed Defendant at the scene of James Ellis’ murder and statements attributed to Defendant by Howard implicated Defendant in the murder. Qwantrell Ayres’ testimony provided the foundation for the admission into evidence of the eavesdropping recording in which Defendant made incriminating statements. The leverage (decades of possible incarceration) possessed by the Office of the State’s Attorney over Howard and Ayres is manifest.
Ayres later received 36 months of probation for an aggravated robbery charge that carried a possible 30 year sentence. Howard, similarly facing 30 years on four separate charges, also received probation only, in his case for 30 months.
In a familiar pattern, prosecutor Clifton committed nothing in writing regarding any recommendations for leniency he might make to the court on behalf of Ayres or Howard in return for their testimony. Instead, according to the Post-Gazette, he simply told their lawyers that the “state would look favorably” on their cooperation.
This, then, is the act of legerdemain, and of corruption: say nothing concrete to a snitch about sentence relief, thus giving him the wiggle room to say on the stand that he has received no promises, all the while making it clear that unspecified relief will be offered.
In thousands of cases that never get serious post-conviction litigation, this prosecutorial strategy, which knowingly encourages perjury, is successful, denying defendants’ rights to fully confront the witnesses against them.
Recent revelations of the massive abuse of this system in Orange County may offer the most glaring example, but cases like Demarco Taylor’s remind us that this kind of corruption is an everyday fact of the criminal justice system in America.