Prosecutorial Misconduct At Root of Two Recent Exonerations

The National Registry of Exonerations, a project which provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989, has added two more cases to its database that involved the unlawful suppression of evidence by prosecutors.

The first is a case out of Missouri in which Paula Hall was wrongfully convicted for the murder of a 68 year-old woman in 2003. Hall was implicated in the murder by an ex-boyfriend who said that she had beat the victim to death with a golf club. At trial, the state presented a jailhouse informant who testified that Hall had confessed to the crime while in prison. However, the state failed to disclose important Brady material about this witness: that she had prior convictions of forgery and probation violation, that she had pending charges in another county, and that in exchange for her testimony against Hall, prosecutors helped get her sentence reduced from five years to 120 days (time served) and asked for leniency on her behalf in another case.

Hall was granted a new trial based on the fact that prosecutors had illegally withheld evidence about a key witness that ought to have been handed over to Halls’ attorneys. At her second trial, Hall was acquitted. In acquitting Hall, Greene County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Cordonnier found that much of the evidence against her was shaky at best. Read the full account of her case on the National Registry’s website here.

Hall’s exoneration is one of a growing number out of Missouri in which evidence was illegally withheld by the state, leading to wrongful convictions. Read an older post about multiple Missouri convictions being overturned on account of prosecutorial misconduct here.

The second case is out of Hampden County, Massachusetts.  In 1987, Mark Schand was convicted of a shooting during a drug deal that ended in the murder of a bystander. When the state prosecuted his brother, Roger Schand, for his alleged involvement in the shooting after Mark’s trial, prosecutors disclosed evidence to Roger’s lawyers that they had not disclosed to Mark. According to the National Registry, this evidence consisted of police reports that said a Hartford man named Randy Weaver, who owned a blue and grey van similar to Mark Schand, was a suspect in the shooting who was questioned but never charged.

Mark Schand’s lawyer alleged in a motion for new trial that the Weaver police reports were “evidence of an alternate suspect that the prosecution had improperly failed to disclose to Schand’s trial attorney.” The same motion alleged that police had withheld reports that showed that the witness identifications of Mark Schand were “flawed and improper”. The motion was denied and Schand’s conviction affirmed on the grounds that the withheld information would not have changed the outcome at trial.

However, further investigation affirmed that Weaver and his acquaintances were at the scene of the crime shortly before the shooting, and that one of those acquaintances matched the description of the shooter. In 2013, Schand’s lawyers presented this evidence in another motion for new trial, along with evidence that all of the prosecution’s witnesses who identified Schand had received favorable deals on pending charges, and that prosecutors had hidden evidence that police had fixed lineups involving Schand so that the witnesses would know to select him.

Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni, who was not the DA at the time Schand was convicted, did not oppose the motion for new trial. It was granted, and Schand was released earlier this month and the state dismissed the charges against him on October 16. Read the National Registry’s compelling recount of this case here.

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