Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Former Chief Justice Lake seeks justice for Hunt

CBS’s 60 Minutes and the Washington Post recently featured stories about the strange case of Lee Wayne Hunt, who has been in prison for a couple of decades for a double murder. There’s no doubt two people were murdered, but there is doubt that Hunt killed them. For one thing, key forensic evidence against him was a process that scientists now repudiate as unreliable and misleading, and that the FBI no longer uses. For another, a defense lawyer now says his deceased client took full responsibility for the murder and that Mr. Hunt was not present when the victims were killed.
Mr. Hunt’s legal team has filed a motion with the N.C. Supreme Court asking the court for review. His lawyers are UNC law professors Rich Rosen and Kenneth Broun – and former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., a conservative Republican.
"All I know is when he learned the facts of the case, he felt very
strongly that a great injustice had been done," says Gerda Stein, who works with the lawyers involved in this case. "Remember, he created the
Innocence Commission, so I think he looks closely at some of these
While he was chief justice, Lake created a study commission to determine a better way to look at credible claims of innocence, which led to creation of a new state commission to examine those cases. Lake wasn’t interested in freeing criminals; he was interested in finding out about cases where the innocent have been imprisoned, because that might mean our criminal justice system had not caught the real criminal, who might still be out on the streets.

Here’s a summary of the Hunt case from an Observer editorial the other day:
Observer Staff - Editorial
If you watched CBS’ "60 Minutes" last Sunday night, you were probably disturbed to hear about the case of Lee Wayne Hunt. He has spent the last two decades in N.C. prisons for a double murder, convicted in part with the use of an FBI process no longer considered reliable and that the agency hasn’t used in more than two years.
That’s not all. A defense lawyer says a deceased client took sole responsibility for the murders before Mr. Hunt’s trial, but because of attorney-client privilege the lawyer couldn’t tell anyone what he knew.

Put these two things together and you’ve got one more mind-boggling example of what can go wrong in our criminal justice system. It seems to be a case begging for a new trial, but so far Mr. Hunt’s lawyers have gotten nowhere. The N.C. Court of Appeals not long ago refused to take a look at his request for a new trial. Now the N.C. Supreme Court will be asked to review a lower court decision denying him a new trial, but unless the justices view the FBI process as flawed or the lawyer’s assertions as credible, Mr. Hunt may spend the rest of his days in jail.
None of this means Mr. Hunt is innocent. He has a long record as a drug dealer. But because the FBI no longer uses so-called bullet lead analysis technique, there is no forensic evidence that Mr. Hunt was involved in the murders. At his trial, The Washington Post reported, an FBI analyst testified that lead in bullet fragments from the victims of a double murder near Fayetteville matched the lead in bullets "connected to" Mr. Hunt’s co-defendant.
The FBI stopped using the lead analysis technology after the National Academy of Sciences said it was "unreliable and potentially misleading." Yet the FBI hasn’t alerted defense attorneys about the discredited analysis in this case.
Equally troubling is a disclosure by defense lawyer Staples Hughes. He says his client Jerry Cashwell told him he had killed Roland and Lisa Matthews after an argument while watching television with them. Mr. Hughes thought attorney-client privilege prohibited him from talking about his client’s confession. After his client committed suicide in prison, Mr. Hughes came forward with the story.
The state’s reaction, however, has been even more discouraging: A judge has referred Mr. Hughes for possible disciplinary action for possible violations of lawyer-client privilege. That’s despite a 2003 N.C. Supreme Court ruling that, despite attorney-client privilege, a lawyer may be compelled to disclose what a deceased client told him about a crime.
Based on recent revelations about Mr. Hunt’s trial and Mr. Hughes’ client, it seems obvious a new trial is in order. But this is North Carolina, and official resistance to assertions there’s something wrong with the criminal justice system here runs wide and deep. Where is justice?


Anonymous said...

The Hunt case and the hypocritical I. Beverly Lake exemplify but the tip of the iceberg that is the corrupt state legal system in N.C. long perpetrated by Lake and his cronies. Indeed, the N.C. State appeals courts have never been concerned with serving other than a rubber stamp cover-up and enabling body for the corrupt and flagrantly unjust actions of their "good old boy" lower court judges and lawyers. As a litigator who has fought them for years I have first hand experience of how their repugnant system works and how the few honest state court judges who refuse to kowtow, like former Judge Lee Lumpkin, are beaten down and off the bench. All of this will soon be fully exposed in the coming powerful documentary, THE SNAKE HANDLER, which should disgust the citizens of N.C. but will do nothing to loosen the death grip that the "good old boys" have on the state's legal system - which is often referred to as the "Charlotte Cesspool" by the clique.

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