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State's Highest Court Deals Setback to Death Row Inmate

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for AdobeStock_116715709 (1).jpegThe Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Rodney Reed's most recent appeals, so he will remain on death row for the 1998 murder of a Bastrop County woman.

In one case, the CCA upheld the state's use of controversial scientific tests in Reed's trial, even though former Medical Examiner Robert Bayardo said the prosecutor manipulated his reports. In Reed's other appeal, the CCA refused to grant him a new trial based on new evidence. During a 2016 interview, former Giddings Police Officer Jimmy Fennell Jr. said he had been drinking the night authorities found Stacey Stites' body, and that he had trouble remembering the events in question.

Reed admits being in a consensual sexual relationship with Stites but he denies raping and killing her. At the time of her death, Stites was involved in a love triangle with Reed and Fennell, whom authorities considered a suspect in this case. Reed's lawyers still hope DNA evidence will clear their client.

Challenging a Conviction on Appeal

It is very difficult to successfully challenge a criminal case on appeal. So, it is very important to have effective representation from a Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer. Your trial may be your only bite at the apple.

In terms of evidence, the prosecutor has a very high burden at trial (guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On appeal, that burden is reversed. The defendant must show that no reasonable juror could have possibly convicted the defendant based on the evidence. It's not enough to show the case could have gone either way.

Procedural challenges are difficult as well. Typically, Tarrant County judges have a great deal of discretion in matters like search warrant validity and arrest procedure irregularities. Unless judges clearly abuse their discretion, appeals courts generally do not second guess their decisions. Once again, it's not enough to show that the judge probably made the wrong call.

"Scientific Evidence" in Criminal Cases

Reed is definitely not the only criminal defendant, or criminal prosecutor, to rest a case on DNA evidence. This type of evidence is very reliable. It has a solid scientific basis, and there is no grey area. It's always 99.99 percent conclusive either way.

But other "scientific" evidence, like tire tracks, bite marks, shoe prints, clothing fibers, and dirt or dust, may be more science fiction than science fact. Jurors who grew up watching CSI shows on TV may assume this evidence is accurate, but a defense expert can usually shatter that myth.

The DWI eye test also falls into this category. Intoxication does cause nystagmus, or involuntary pupil movements at certain angles. But a significant number of people have lazy eye, or Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, but they do not know it, because the symptoms are so mild. Additionally, intoxication is not the leading cause of nystagmus. In fact, it's not even near the top.

So, an increasing number of Tarrant County judges only allow prosecutors to use the HGN test in limited situations.

Criminal appeals are hard to win, with or without scientific evidence. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Fort Worth, contact Herreth Law. We routinely handle matters in Tarrant County and nearby jurisdictions.

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