The Houston Chronicle is reporting today that former Death Row inmate, Alfred Dewayne Brown, is suing Houston and Harris County for damages regarding his reversed conviction in a Capital Murder case. Brown's case, as you probably remember, was the subject of the Pulitzer Prize-winning articles written by the Chronicle's Lisa Falkenberg in 2014. Although he was initially sentenced to death for the murders of police officer Charles Clark and clerk Alfredia Jones, his case was ultimately reversed.
The short version of why Brown's case was reversed is that exculpatory evidence (in the form of cell phone records that corroborated Brown's alibi) had not been turned over to the defense nor admitted in trial. When the issue was raised, there was no dispute that Brown deserved a new trial. If I recall correctly, the D.A.'s Office was not opposed to him being granted a new trial.
After the new trial was granted, however, the District Attorney's Office ultimately arrived at the conclusion that they no longer had the evidence or witnesses to retry Brown. The case was ultimately dismissed.
The decision to dismiss the case was not an easy one. The homicide detectives in the case were adamant that Brown was factually guilty, and many in the D.A.'s Office did not disagree.
They just lacked the proof to take it to trial again.
So, when Brown sought compensation from the State, which required him being declared "actually innocent" of the charges, then-District Attorney Devon Anderson refused to endorse such an agreement. Obviously, that's not sitting very well with Mr. Brown.
Brown's lawsuit, targeting the county, most likely could be easily resolved if current District Attorney Kim Ogg agrees that Brown is innocent. If I understand the procedure correctly, her agreement on actual innocence would clear many obstacles for Brown in his quest to receive compensation from the State.
All of this puts Kim Ogg in a difficult position. Although Ogg ran as a Democrat with a significant amount of funding from George Soros, a vocal death penalty opponent, she has significant ties to the law enforcement community. Her past history as a prosecutor and subsequently CrimeStoppers made her a familiar and popular figure with the police, back in the day.
Some of Ogg's policies have strained those old ties to her police friends, and I'm sure she has no desire to strain them further. If she adopts the official position that Brown is actually innocent, she will be causing some irreparable damage to her relationship with the police -- specifically HPD Homicide.
But on the flip side, if she doesn't agree to declare that the D.A.'s Office believes Brown to be actually innocent, she is going to damage her relationship with the defense bar and with local Dems. Nothing bolsters the argument against the Death Penalty like having a person wrongfully sent to Death Row. Given Harris County's dubious distinction as the Death Penalty Capital of the State and Country, an actual innocence finding from here would be fantastic PR for Death Penalty opponents.
Ogg is not in an enviable position for a progressive District Attorney.
My guess is that Mr. Brown is ultimately going to get an actual innocence agreement from Ogg. In the end, she'll ultimately concede to her true voting base. She won't like being in the position, and I imagine she won't be the person on television announcing her decision.
I also doubt that there will be any detailed rationale for her decision -- at least not one based on the facts of the case.