For starters, Raley is a highly respected attorney who has dealt with claims of factual innocence on previous occasions, most notably, the case of Michael Morton, who was wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife, Christine. As most of you know, Raley's work on that case led to the exoneration of Mr. Morton, which, in turn, brought Christine Morton's actual killer to justice.
More importantly, it keeps the Ogg Administration from potentially being boxed into a decision that would not be well received by the Harris County Defense Bar. As I've noted before, Ogg is in a tight spot with this. If Ogg declines to declare Brown factually innocent, it isn't going to sit well with the Defense Bar. Ogg would be put in the awkward position of acknowledging that Brown is legally not guilty but not deserving of the money paid out to those proven factually not guilty.
Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg characterized the Raley investigation as an unnecessary delay to Brown's desired compensation, asserting her belief that Brown has already been proven factually innocent . . . more or less.
That standard [for a legal finding of actual innocence] is roughly similar to the one that led the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals to toss Brown’s conviction due to constitutional error. An inmate must show that the constitutional error at trial “probably” resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent and that no reasonable juror would have voted to convict in light of the new evidence.Um, maybe in the same sense that Sesame Street is "roughly similar" to The Wire. Both deal with life on the streets in an urban area, right?
Brown's case was overturned based on a Brady violation when the D.A.'s Office realized that the defense had not been provided with a copy of telephone records that supported Brown's alibi by his girlfriend, Ericka Dockery. The D.A.'s Office agreed that Brown deserved a new trial and the Court of Criminal Appeals signed off on a Writ of Habeas Corpus.
I'm not sure why Lisa is insinuating that the Court of Criminal Appeals practically made a finding that there was a constitutional error at trial that "'probably' resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent." That is not the case.
In fact, whether or not Alfred Dewayne Brown is factual guilty is very much up for debate.
I've spoken with a couple of the prosecutors who handled the Brown case after it came back from the Court of Criminal Appeals. Without hesitation, they will gladly state unequivocally that he deserved a new trial. There is no debate that the evidence withheld by Rizzo was exculpatory and should have been turned over to Brown's defense counsel during trial.
But they will also tell you that they fully believe that Brown is factually guilty. So will every HPD Homicide investigator that worked on the case. I don't know enough about the details of the case to form my own opinion on Brown's guilt or innocence, but I will say that there can be a tremendous difference between legal innocence and factual innocence.
There can also be a tremendous variance in the strength of alibi evidence. Some alibis can unequivocally exonerate somebody. Others are less definitive. The people who I've spoken to about the phone records that supported Ericka Dockery's story acknowledge that they were evidence of an alibi, but they were far from definitive. They say if Rizzo had just turned over the phone records, he could have easily explained them away at trial.
Despite Brown and Falkenberg's protestations to the contrary, Brown's factual innocence isn't quite the no-brainer they portray it to be.
I'm going to hazard a guess that D.A. Ogg was a little concerned about Brown's innocence herself. Having watched how she has handled this case, as well as others, I believe that she would have loved nothing more than to declare Brown factually innocent while lambasting the "toxic culture" of previous administrations. She certainly had no problem notifying the press of other shocking developments on the case.
But I found this paragraph in Falkenberg's column to be very interesting:
But if Raley does not find Brown “actually innocent,” Ogg said she may have decide whether to charge him again in Clark’s murder. She chose Raley, she said, not to pass the buck, but because she felt the case needed an independent, fair review by someone outside the DA’s office.Ogg leaving the door open to the idea of re-prosecuting Brown is shocking to me. There's no chance in hell that Ogg doesn't know the facts of the case. She may not have the time to delve into it as deeply as she feels necessary, but I guarantee you that she has more than a passing familiarity with it. I have no doubt that she has formed an opinion on what needs to be done.
I'm not accusing her of "passing the buck;" to the contrary, my guess is that she wanted a credible voice such as Raley's to support whatever decision is ultimately made.
That's just smart politics.