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Houston man's death sentence on appeal

Over 10 years ago, a young Houston man was sentenced to death for killing a police officer, yet he has always maintained his innocence. Even though no physical evidence has come forward, the man is still faces execution. Now, he is pursuing his appeal even further by claiming that he has not been represented by adequate criminal defense attorneys.

In 2000, the Houston man and a friend were caught by police as they were stealing auto parts. The two men tried to flee, but an altercation at the scene led to an officer's death. Based on a radio transmission and claims from a woman that said the Houston man told her he killed a cop, the man was sentenced to be executed. On the other hand, four people have testified that the other man involved in the theft confessed to killing the cop, but the prosecution claimed that their testimonies were not credible. Another testimony indicated that the other man was seen covered in blood and confessed to killing the police deputy.

In a legal motion requesting a new trial, the judge ruled that there was some compelling information regarding the Houston man's claim, but there was not sufficient evidence to grant a re-trial. Now, the man has filed a claim based on the constitutional guarantee of effective legal representation, because his legal representatives did not do enough to point out the evidence working in his favor.

One of the primary issues is that evidence came out in support of the man's proclaimed innocence after the first ruling came down. Unfortunately, "actual innocence" is not recognized as a way to overturn an "otherwise valid conviction" under federal law. The Houston man's current attorney indicates that he just got caught up with a rough crowd and now faces the death penalty based on a "legal technicality."

The issues raised in this particular case are far bigger than the case itself. It's a dangerous precedent to send a man to death row based on disputed evidence. In addition, this case indicates the need for strong legal representation in all cases. At this stage, the man faces a tremendous burden to validate his claims, but he may be able to get another trial if his case is effectively presented and serious doubts about the soundness of his conviction are raised.

Source: The New York Times, "Appeal of Death Row Case Is More Than a Matter of Guilt or Innocence," Brandi Grissom, March 10, 2012

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