Sherman Brown- Virginia- Convicted in 1970 Nov 1, 2016 17:22:11 GMT -5
Post by Scumhunter on Nov 1, 2016 17:22:11 GMT -5
(Above: Sherman Brown, circa 2010. Photo Credit: Washington Post)
Sherman Brown will be my Innocence Project case of the month for November, 2016. And at the moment he is the oldest case we've profiled so far in this section. Although the crime he's accused of is horrible and brutal, not only does DNA evidence put his guilt into doubt, but this case is also another example of the controversy of the death penalty. Here is the Washington Post article on the case:
When Sherman Brown was convicted and imprisoned in the brutal killing of a 4-year-old Virginia boy, the Vietnam War was still raging and the Watergate was just a hotel, not a scandal.
Then 22 years old, he maintained his innocence at the time and as each decade faded into the next. Now, after nearly a half-
century behind bars, Brown is petitioning Virginia’s Supreme Court, saying DNA collected from newly recovered evidence indicates that he could not have committed the murder.
Justices now will have to weigh whether that genetic evidence is strong enough to warrant overturning his 1970 conviction in Albemarle County.
If Brown, 69, is exonerated, he would be among the longest-serving prisoners to be cleared of a crime in the history of Virginia and the nation. It would be an extraordinary turnabout for a man who was initially sentenced to death before the sentence was reduced to life.
“Recent DNA testing demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence what I have maintained for over 45 years: that I am innocent of this crime,” Brown wrote in his writ of actual innocence filed in early October and first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “The evidence against me at trial was deeply flawed.”
Brown was convicted of first-degree murder after a vicious 1969 attack near Charlottesville, Va., during which a woman was beaten, stabbed and possibly raped in her home. The same man also fatally stabbed the woman’s 4-year-old son, leaving him face down on his bed.
The mother survived and identified Brown as her attacker. He was also linked to the crime via a type of fiber and hair analysis that the FBI in recent years has acknowledged is flawed, in part after reporting by The Washington Post.
[Convicted offenders not informed of flaws in the forensic tests]
Brown writes in court filings that new tests ruled him out as the source of a partial male DNA profile found in a recently recovered slide containing a vaginal swab taken from the woman after the attack. Neither the woman nor her son are identified in recent court records.
The tests also showed a greater than 98 percent chance that the material did not come from the woman’s husband, according to the filing. The woman recently told prosecutors she had a monogamous relationship with her husband, Brown’s attorneys said in the court papers, arguing that the DNA must have come from an unidentified third man who was the actual attacker.
Brown’s attorneys, who include lawyers from the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and New York’s Innocence Project, said that the type of Y-chromosome DNA recovered from the swab cannot be matched against DNA samples of known perpetrators contained in state or federal databases.
Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s office has not filed a response to Brown’s writ of actual innocence and another writ of habeas corpus claiming that prosecutors relied on the discredited hair and fiber analysis. Albemarle County prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment.
“As with all such petitions, we will closely examine and consider the claims and evidence as we prepare a response for the Supreme Court,” Michael Kelly, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, wrote in an email.
Brown had recently returned from serving in the Vietnam War when the horrific events of Oct. 1, 1969, unfolded. Prosecutors said at trial that a man knocked on the door of the woman’s home that afternoon.
The woman went to the door with her 4-year-old son and opened it. The man asked for a drink of water. After a brief conversation, prosecutors said, the man propositioned the woman for sex and the woman repeatedly refused. Prosecutors said the man told her, “I’m so sexed up, I don’t know what to do.”
Soon after, the woman vaguely remembered receiving painful blows to her side and was knocked unconscious, prosecutors said.
Later that afternoon, the woman’s sister-in-law came to the house and found the woman beaten and stabbed. Her underwear had also been removed. The 4-year-old boy was found covered in blood on his bed, prosecutors said. He had been beaten and stabbed several times.
Prosecutors argued at trial that the suspect raped or tried to rape the woman and attacked her and killed her son to try to get rid of any witnesses. An analysis of the woman’s vaginal swab performed after the attack indicated the presence of sperm, according to Brown’s filing.
At trial, the woman was the sole eyewitness who identified Brown as her attacker. The woman testified that she had smoked a cigarette with him during a previous 15-minute encounter.
In his filings, Brown denies ever meeting the woman and said she might have misidentified him because they were of different races, among other factors. Brown is African American; the woman is white.
At trial, an FBI agent testified that Brown’s hair was found on a sweatshirt that also contained fibers that matched a robe the woman was wearing during the attack, tying Brown to the crime.
The woman’s testimony and forensic evidence was enough for an all-white jury to convict Brown after a brief deliberation. He was sentenced to death.
Brown was on Virginia’s death row when the Supreme Court struck down the state’s death penalty in 1972. Brown was resentenced to life, before the death penalty was reinstated.
In 2008, the Innocence Project reached an agreement with the Albemarle County prosecutor’s office to begin DNA testing in the case. After an audit, the Justice Department also recently told Brown’s attorneys that the FBI agent erred in his analysis of the hairs found on the sweatshirt.
But the true break came last year, when members of the University of Virginia’s Innocence Project discovered the slide containing the vaginal swab at the school’s Department of Pathology.
More than 40 people have been exonerated of crimes in Virginia, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. If exonerated, Brown would join Earl Washington Jr. as the only other person to have sat on death row in the state before being cleared of a crime, if the Supreme Court rules in his favor.
There are a number of steps before that could happen. The Virginia Supreme Court stayed the writ of actual innocence for 90 days so that additional testing can be done to try to conclusively exclude the woman’s husband as the contributor of the male DNA found in the vaginal swab.
The state must respond to Brown’s filing. Then, the Supreme Court will decide whether to hold oral arguments before rendering a decision. After 46 years, Brown will have to wait a bit longer for his claim of innocence to be decided once again.
“It’s very tragic to think someone has been in prison for four decades and he may actually be innocent of the crime,” said Susan Friedman, an attorney with the Innocence Project.
Official Innocence Project page on Sherman Brown: www.innocenceproject.org/tag/sherman-brown/
Thoughts? This is a case where there's not much to argue about when it comes to the details- either DNA has cleared or will clear him or it won't- but I thought it would still be an interesting case to discuss to ask these two questions:
1. Sherman Brown was on death row. Should he be exonerated, it proves at least one man could have potentially been executed for a crime he didn't commit. Does this change your view on the death penalty whatsoever?
2. Sherman Brown was convicted by an all-white jury. Is there bias where if it had been a white man on trial with the same evidence in many of these cases, perhaps he wouldn't have been convicted?
As for question 1- this case is once again another reason why I'm so torn over the death penalty. Remember, this is a site that primarily is about chasing after fugitives but we're also about overall justice as well and that includes freeing innocent men and women who were wrongly convicted. There's nothing I want more than an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth for cold blooded killers who actually committed the offense. However, I don't want to see ONE innocent person put to death at all. In general, I'm for having a death penalty for the most extreme of crimes, but generally against using it. There are some cases just so terrible, like Yaser Said if he's ever caught for killing his own two daughters (and while technically innocent until proven guilty, it is rather obvious he's guilty considering his daughters saying he shot them on the 911 call), that it's the only appropriate punishment in my mind. However, there needs to be overwhelming DNA and circumstantial evidence for the death penalty to be applied. If there is no "smoking gun" (sorry for the term), and a man or woman is convicted based on circumstantial evidence, I am very uncomfortable with the death penalty.
As for question 2, we'd like to think juries make decisions based on the evidence, and if we were on a jury, we'd do so as well. However, even those with the best intentions often have subconscious biases. It doesn't mean they're bad people or racists, but it's just part of human nature. In this case however, the FBI analyst, apparently now incorrectly connected hair samples to Brown, and the deceased woman's sister-in-law ID'd brown. It's mentioned Brown was convicted by an all white-jury. But I do think in this particular instance, there was unfortunate evidence stacked about Brown that he couldn't fight back against without the advanced DNA technology we now have. Race is definitely a factor in many cases, but I think Brown was unfortunately screwed regardless. With that being said, I do believe in today's society finding a diverse background of jurors is necessary. (And for the record, that means a having a mixed jury overall, not one that's all white or all-black etc... but admittedly in some cities based on their demographics that is likely very hard to do.)