A new filing in a Texas death case proves just how far the state will go to win and protect a shaky capital conviction. Scheduled for execution on November 3rd, Julius Murphy is a Texas man whose conviction and sentence have been called into question by revelations about the state’s threats against its key witnesses.
The prosecution’s case depended on two witnesses, the only witnesses to place Mr. Murphy at the scene and as the shooter. However, new affidavits reveal that these witnesses were threatened with charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder unless they testified for the prosecution. Witness #2 was not informed that she would not be charged until after her testimony was complete. In the words of witness #1, “When it came time for Julius’ trial, the prosecutor threatened me with a murder charge and said they had enough evidence on me…They told me that if I did not testify against Julius, I would lose my daughter. I believed them.” (See the Application for Postconviction Writ of Habeas Corpus, Exhibit 1)
In violation of the prosecution’s Brady obligation, the jury was unaware of the threats hanging over the heads of the state’s two key witnesses. Witness #1 has recanted his testimony and now says Mr. Murphy was not the shooter.
Mr. Murphy was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998, at a peak in Texas’ overall death penalty use. Although it’s been over 15 years, and much has changed in Texas, the state continues to attempt to thwart its discovery obligations to Mr. Murphy, as a new filing shows.
Last week on October 9, 2015, attorneys for Mr. Murphy filed a Request for a Writ of Mandamus and Declaratory Judgment detailing the lengths to which Texas has gone to avoid sharing the public file on the case.
Seeking records through the Texas Public Information Act, attorneys for Mr. Murphy repeatedly contacted the Bowie County District Attorney’s office in order to obtain the public file on the case. Texas law states that all the documents in question are presumed to be public unless the DA can show “compelling reasons” why they are not. The law also states that the DA must get the AG’s approval to withhold any of these files.
So, when attorneys for Mr. Murphy were finally granted access – for one, four-hour window – they assumed they were getting the full file.
Not so. More than two weeks later, Mr. Murphy’s counsel got a fax which stated, for the first time, that many items had been withheld, including: “several publications, three court transcripts, and over one-hundred pages labeled ‘attorney work product,’ including handwritten notes, voir dire questions, witness questions and a subpoena request.” (p. 6)
While attorneys for Mr. Murphy fight to get the rest of the file, other aspects of his case also call out for review. Julius Murphy is a black man with an intellectual disability who was sentenced to death at age 18 by an all-white jury. In other words, the clear prosecutorial misconduct in his case is just one of the many themes common to flawed death penalty cases present here.
We will continue to follow developments.