Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What is Tennessee Afraid Of?

Sometime after 1:30 a.m. on July12, 1985, 19-year-old Suzanne Collins went jogging near a Navy base north of Memphis, Tennessee. She never came back. Suzanne was kidnaped, beaten to death and sexually assaulted with a sharpened tree limb.

Sedley Alley was arrested almost immediately after Suzanne’s body was found. Police had arrested Alley at 12:10 a.m. on the morning of Suzanne’s murder, and after they released him, police kept him under surveillance, so Alley was easy to find. (Over the next 20 years, the authorities "forgot" to disclose Alley’s arrest, release and surveillance.) He admitted the killing, although the story he gave police was significantly inconsistent with the evidence. Alley pled not guilty by insanity, claiming he had multiple personalities and another personality must have killed Suzanne. With Alley’s confession in hand, it wasn’t hard to get a conviction and death sentence.

Famed FBI profiler John Douglas featured this case in his book Into The Darkness. He wrote that he had become friends with the Collins family and had said if anyone deserved the death sentence it was this man. For many, the reprieves Alley received over the years was frustrating. His execution was scheduled for May 17, 2006, but he won a short reprieve (until June 28th) while his attorneys, including Barry Scheck with the Cardozo Innocence Project, sought DNA testing of the murder weapon, Suzanne’s clothes and other items from the crime scene. On May 30, 2006, Judge W. Otis Higgs of Memphis denied Alley’s DNA testing request. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals is now considering an appeal of Higgs’ denial. The same court rejected a similar appeal by Alley in 2004.

Jennifer Smith, a deputy state attorney general, said Alley's guilt is not in doubt and DNA tests, had they been available then, would not have changed his trial jury's verdict in 1987. But, as Scheck pointed out in oral argument, how do they know until they do the testing? And if Alley’s conviction is iron-clad, why does the state so vigorously oppose DNA testing?

Smith accused Alley’s lawyers of trying to open a new murder investigation. If Alley didn’t kill Suzanne, someone else did, and Suzanne deserves nothing less than a new investigation. Smith also says she’s concerned that allowing DNA testing in Alley’s case would "open up a door" to broader use of Tennessee’s post-conviction DNA testing law. To which we respond, so what? What is more important to the State of Tennessee, convictions or truth?


Anonymous said...

This is what DA's in Tennessee are NOT afraid of. Lying and conspiring with police officers to fabricate confessions and other testimony to get a conviction....

Even when their police officer perjurers are caught and confess, do our DA's do anything? NO. Just a small demotion until this blows over. What about the woman they are prosecuting knowingly and complicitly with false evidence? Prosecute on. Not even an apology. See article below:

Swear to Tell the Truth?
A detective retracts testimony that led to a mistrial in a high-profile murder case

by Sarah Kelley

When Metro Police Detective Roy Dunaway testified during a high-profile murder trial last month, a statement he made about the defendant’s alleged confession was both shocking and, as it turns out, completely false.

The veteran detective said under oath that Belinda Hope Mercer admitted to him, “I shot him, I shot him,” referring to her husband, Joseph Mercer III, who was killed in the couple’s Oak Hill home last spring. The detective’s assertion on the stand stunned both the defense and the prosecution, who until that moment in the courtroom on Oct. 3 had heard nothing about such a confession.

Mercer’s attorney immediately moved for a mistrial, which the judge granted without hesitation.

Dunaway has since acknowledged that Mercer never made such an admission to him. Somehow, he says, he made a mistake. But regardless of his intentions, Metro Police Department officials have, as a result, relegated the longtime homicide detective to the position of patrol officer effective this week.

“She never said, ‘I shot him, I shot him.’ I don’t know why I said that, don’t know why I said it, it just came out,” the detective admits in an affidavit, which the District Attorney’s Office filed in Davidson County Criminal Court last week. He goes on to explain that what Mercer actually told him was that the gun accidentally went off, which has been her contention all along.

In the affidavit, the detective explains that he had been “working midnights” and had worked the night before he testified in the Mercer case. He also says he was taking medicine for a cold at the time, adding, “I was tired, maybe, I just don’t know.”

Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron says the 41-year-old Dunaway has spent many of his 15 years with the department as a detective. He’s investigated numerous homicides and other violent crimes over the years. But because of his false testimony in the Mercer trial, Aaron says he will no longer be a detective, at least for the foreseeable future.

“In his conversation with me, he said that he made a mistake, that there were no underlying reasons or issues. He made a mistake,” Aaron says. Still, Aaron says his actions resulted in serious ramifications.

Regardless of whether the misstatement was premeditated or inadvertent, it’s likely to impact any testimony Dunaway provides in future cases, and might even call into question statements he made under oath in previous criminal matters.

“I think Roy Dunaway shot himself in the foot in such a way that he’ll never make a reliable witness again,” says deputy public defender Laura Dykes, who is not connected to the Mercer case. “His cross [examination] in any future case will consist of, ‘What if you remember this correctly two days after this has concluded?’ He just isn’t going to make a decent witness for the state in any situation.”

Given his reassignment, Dunaway won’t be in court and in a position to testify in such cases as often, but Belinda Mercer’s attorney, Hal Hardin, agrees with the public defender’s assessment and predicts that defense lawyers in past cases might try to use Dunaway’s false testimony in the Mercer case as evidence that he might have lied before.

Before Mercer’s trial started, Hardin says prosecutors made it clear that no witnesses were going to testify that his client confessed. That’s why when Dunaway “blurted out this statement,” Hardin says, “I almost fell out of my chair.”

In his opening remarks at trial, Hardin argued that there was no proof his client admitted shooting the victim. “Then they put this officer up, and it made me a liar in front of the jury,” Hardin says, adding that the witness went so far as to claim Mercer felt certain she had shot her husband. “The judge said he had no alternative but to grant a mistrial.”

And it’s clear the prosecution was equally as floored by Dunaway’s performance in the courtroom. “Yes, we were surprised. He [Dunaway] had never told us that before,” says Katy Miller, senior assistant district attorney and one of two prosecutors assigned to the case.

The day after the judge declared a mistrial, Dunaway told prosecutors he was watching news coverage of his testimony when he realized he had made a mistake. He then called assistant district attorney James Sledge, the other prosecutor on the case, and told him Mercer never said she shot her husband. Dunaway goes on to state in the affidavit:

“Mr. Sledge then asked me what she really did say. I remember her saying, ‘I had the gun in my hand.… I was holding the gun…the gun went off, the gun went off.’ She said that ‘the gun went off’ several times and that it was an accident. Mr. Sledge asked me how I got from ‘the gun went off’ to ‘I shot him.’ I don’t know. I just don’t know. I don’t know where it came from. Mrs. Mercer never said, ‘I shot him, I shot him.’ I’m sure she didn’t say that.”

A retrial has been set for March 2007, but Hardin plans to file a motion to dismiss the case citing witness misconduct. Judge Mark Fishburn has scheduled a motion hearing for Nov. 17.

Both Belinda and Joseph Mercer were well known as prominent attorneys in the Nashville area. Mercer’s death at the age of 53—possibly at the hands of his 33-year-old wife—sparked a maelstrom of media attention and interest in the case, particularly among the legal community. The two reportedly were in the midst of a divorce when Joseph Mercer was killed.

Dunaway was the first officer to the scene at 847 North Hillview Court on April 16, 2005, after Belinda Mercer called 911 to report her husband had been shot. Mercer told Dunaway and other detectives that she and her husband were arguing in a bedroom closet when she picked up a pistol he had been carrying. Mercer said that when her husband grabbed for the gun it discharged, striking him in the neck and fatally wounding him.

Further investigation and results of forensic testing proved inconsistent with Mercer’s version of the story, according to police, and she eventually was charged with second-degree murder. Mercer, however, has maintained her innocence, and her attorney has characterized Joseph Mercer’s death as a tragic accident.

Anonymous said...

During a pre-trial motion before Judge Mark Blackburn on December 19, 2006, Patrolman Roy Dunaway further admitted to corrupted testimony at the Mercer trial in October.

He admitted that Hope Mercer had not said she placed the .22 calibre weapon on the cabinet located in the bathroom. Rather, he has summised this because she did not know of the weapons whereabouts. And the picture presented by the DA displaying the weapon in this location had to come about somehow.

Such claptrap was invented by then Detective Dunaway for his (and perhaps the DA's as well) nefarious purposes.

Justice? Of course not! When money and politics combine justice is damned.

In this particular case, the DA had unequivocally stated in pre-trial motions before Judge Wyatt that they possessed evidence Hope Mercer fully admitted to having shot her husband, namely in the form of tape interviews. Who can deny that officer Dunaway, having submitted his felonious reported some eight (8) months after the accident, was the DA's source for such a fabrication. After all, no such tapes existed and only Dunaway perjuried testimony saw light of day.

Are we, the public, to assume the DA is credible, unbiased and fair when in fact they knowingly and willingly concealed exculpatory evidence simply becasue it is inconsistent with their theory and prejudical to their prosecutorial case? Does not truth matter!

Moreover, when an officer of the law is caught in having made false and felonious statements while under oath during a murder trial, it appears likewise we should unquestionably accept, as asserted by both the DA and officer Dunway, such perjury is - and was - only a "mistake." "Caught up in the moment" said officer Dunaway in his admission of false testimony.

Therefore, neither should it be punishable nor a prosecutable offense. Evidently, Judge Fishburn seems all too content to accept such reasoning in his court. To date, Judge Blackburn has failed to rule-far less demonstrate outrage-on a motion for appointment of special prosecutor pro-tem in the case of this admitted perjury. Hum....

Additionally, there is no record of then Detective Dunaway ever having been at the seen of this accident. Truth in Jusice Files said: "This is what DA's in Tennessee are NOT afraid of: Lying and conspiring with police officers to fabricate confessions and other testimony to get a conviction...."

Are we the public to believe money has not influenced corrupt and false testimony, violation of state constitutional rights under Rule 16, and an overarching conspiracy to deny justice.

Nashvillians have justification aplenty for mistrust in the District Attorney's office.

Name withheld.

Anonymous said...

Its a shame Tennessee also supports the DCS in conspircy to commit fraud, allowing this so called foster parents they claim the State checks out thoroughly before allowing them to become part of their "click". One foster parent stole from me 10,000.00 where she claimed DCS was not giving her any compensation for 3 children in her home.
After reporting this to the State, the Governor and Senetor, not to forget the Congressman of that part of town, they told me (DCS) that my calls to thier office was preventing them from saving a childs life that could be in deathly danger. Now what kind of garbage is that?
Is this State completely out of its mind or is it a drug thing?

Anonymous said...

To the above statement: Joe Mercer was one of my best friend's fathers. He was shot and killed by his wife Hope Mercer. For you to use this story to talk about your on issues with the DA makes me sick. Do you understand what it's like to be a 15 year old kid and lose your dad because someone shot him? Or how about being that kid's friends? We all thought of Joe Mercer as a father figure. The officer made a mistake, calm down. He confessed and was demoted. End of story.

Anonymous said...

I worked as Joe Mercer's sole assistant during the time of his death. He confided in me--no one will ever convince me this was an accident--no one.

Anonymous said...

Hello, there is one thing I would like to point out to everyone. Yes, the Tennessee system is corrupt. And while it doesn't take much to see JUST how corrupt things are here or that we desperately need judicial reform in much of the same way we need to put Hillary Clinton in handcuffs ------don't hold your breath for either to happen.