Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Laura Hall: today’s Third Court oral arguments (part 1)

In the Third Court of Appeals this morning, Justices David Puryear, Alan Waldrop, and Bob Pemberton heard Ken Mahaffey argue what he sees as points of error in Laura Hall’s trial that are so serious that Hall’s convictions should be reversed or she should get a new trial. Bryan Case argued on the state’s behalf.

Mahaffey began by telling the panel that he has never been removed from an appellate case as is stated in the amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief submitted by Doug Conley. He further clarified that he was once appointed to take over a case after the first attorney had been removed.

Of the seven points of error Mahaffey cited, the three involving the prosecution’s failure to disclose certain evidence elicited the most questioning from the justices. Mahaffey argued that prosecutors had known for a full week before she took the stand that prosecution witness Nora Sullivan’s statement contained new information, and yet the defense was not made aware of this until Sullivan began to testify.

Mahaffey said the prosecution should have told the defense that witness Henriette Langenbach had been to prison for kidnapping cases in New Zealand, information which could have affected her credibility. Mahaffey said, "It is the duty of the prosecution to turn over exculpatory evidence whether or not it’s material." Mahaffey further claimed that these were not just discovery violations, but Brady violations.

Mahaffey also argued that the jury should have heard that sentencing-phase witness Doug Conley had not been able to identify Hall from a police photo lineup, a fact the jury could use in judging his credibility.

Case argued that Conley had told prosecutors that he knew his passenger was indeed Laura Hall because he’d seen her in the news. After questions from the justices, Case conceded that the information about Conley should have been turned over to the defense. Case argued that it was not material because Conley would have testified that he recognized Hall from the news had he been cross examined.

Case also conceded that the state violated a discovery order by not turning over Nora Sullivan’s statement but said it wasn’t a Brady issue. Justice Waldrop asked Case his thoughts about the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct described in Conley’s amicus curiae brief, saying he had expected Case to be vigorously denying them. Case said there was no basis for the allegations.

Case explained that one of the allegations, the felony Hindering Apprehension indictment, was not improper because the state considered the flight of Hall and Colton Pitonyak a “continuing offense.” Case implied that it was immaterial anyway because the jury convicted on the lesser charge of misdemeanor Hindering Apprehension. Conley is “basically making up” the information regarding prosecutorial misconduct, Case said.

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