A big shout out to the Innocence Project and TCDLA member Julie Lesser, exoneration attorney of the Dallas Public Defenders Office, for seeing justice finally done in the case of Steven Mark Chaney. Chaney was convicted in a 1987 double murder based on testimony that he had left a bite mark on the arms of one of the victims—that there was a “one to a million” chance somebody besides Chaney had made that mark. One juror after Chaney’s trial said the bite evidence convinced her he was guilty, despite testimony from nine witnesses who said that they had spent time with him the day of the slayings and that he couldn’t have been at the victims’ home when they were killed. Defense lawyers also charged prosecutors with knowingly presented false evidence that blood had been found on the bottom of Chaney’s shoe, withholding notes from another expert who said there was no blood found. In addition to declaring Chaney innocent, the CCA found that he is entitled to relief under Texas’ change in science law, which provides an avenue for relief for wrongful convictions based on science that has been discredited since the time of trial. The Innocence Project also commended the work of the Dallas District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), led by Patricia Cummings and Cynthia Garza, and Judge Susan Hawk, a former Dallas district attorney, for reexamining Chaney’s case and seeking his release and relief. Well done, all.
Kudos to TCDLA Director Roberto Balli and the missus, Claudia, of Laredo for a recent win: It dealt with an immigrant client who had lived in the country since he was three years old. Roberto explains: “We filed a writ arguing that our client’s plea of guilty in 2011 was not voluntary because he was not properly advised on the immigration consequences by his lawyer. After a hearing, the judge granted our writ. The prosecutor did the right thing and dismissed the case.” Roberto says that the client, who has no criminal history, is now going to apply to stay in the United States. Congratulations, Ballis, on a job well done.
Shout out to TCDLA Director and DWI Committee Co-Chair Mark Thiessen and team for fighting the good fight in a trial lasting a week and a half with two days of deliberation. The jury remained hopelessly deadlocked and a mistrial was declared (voting 10–2 Not Guilty on Intox Man and hung on Manslaughter and Crim Neg Hom). The tragic facts: A child died in a rear-end collision. Mark says: “No one thought our client was even remotely intoxicated, and she never even smelled of alcohol at the time of the accident. She voluntarily gave her blood and consented to an interview after. She looked and sounded absolutely normal, but the blood came back .249. Didn’t add up. And her blood came back negative for adderall, which she has taken twice daily for the last eight years.” As he notes, the facts weren’t there to support a conviction, but people vote with their hearts.
Mark shares credit with a number of members: “Big thank you to our experts Amanda Culbertson, Jacob Baker, and Dr. Lance A. Platt. And thanks to Brian Wice and Michael Mowla for all the appellate advice. Y’all are brilliant.” And, of course: “Most importantly, thank you to my wife and second chair, Taly Thiessen, for getting me through this and keeping me calm.
“I truly hope over the holidays that the family and the DA can come together for an amicable offer. These families need to heal and need closure. I don’t see a jury ever coming to any verdict in this case. Facts versus emotion. This is a lawsuit, not a crime.”
Shout out to Voice Ethics Editor (and chair of the TCDLA Ethics Committee) Robert Pelton for his new title: Editor of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association magazine The Defender. He’s already started working with Executive Director Christina Appelt, and you can see their work on the HCCLA website. I think they’d both agree with the Ben Franklin quote: “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”