Paul Skalnik is a grifter and criminal. Now a man may be executed because of his dubious testimony. Why did prosecutors rely on him as an informant?
Pamela Colloff’s ProPublica/New York Times investigation into the murder conviction of Joe Bryant exposed huge flaws in the prosecution, and now they’re coming to light in court.
The conclusion to Pamela Colloff’s intensive investigation into the murder conviction of Joe Bryan and the flawed forensic “science” — blood spatter analysis — on which it rests.
Mickey Bryan’s, husband, a beloved high school principal, was charged with killing her. Did he do it, or had there been a terrible mistake?
When she was 18 and eight months pregnant, Claire Wilson was critically wounded during the 1966 University of Texas Tower shooting. This is Wilson’s story, which goes into how her life was affected in the tragedy’s aftermath.
For more than a decade, Michelle Lyons’s job at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice required her to witness the state’s executions. “I started thinking about it all in very personal terms after I had a child, and that was my downfall.”
In 1998 a district attorney sent a teenager to prison for murder. Years later, he’s questioning the life sentence:
According to the law, Cole continued, it did not matter that Randy had not fired the gun or had not wished Heather dead. In Texas, the “law of parties” erases the distinction between killers and accomplices, finding that a person can be held criminally responsible for the conduct of another if he participated in the crime. By virtue of the fact that Randy had assisted Curtis, he was guilty of capital murder. “He could stand here all day long and tell you that his intent was not to assist in the commission of this crime, and his actions cry out differently,” Cole insisted. “He’s guilty. He must pay the consequences of his choice.”
The jury agreed, and on August 25, 1998, Randy was convicted of capital murder and handed an automatic life sentence. Cole watched as Randy, then nineteen, was led from the courtroom in handcuffs and leg irons. As the DA gathered the papers at his table, he was relieved that the trial was over. Yet he hardly felt triumphant. “It was not a moment of celebration,” Cole told me. “There was no joy or happiness. I had a deep, deep sense that another young life had been senselessly wasted.”
Michael Morton, who spent 25 years wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of his wife, takes the stand again, against the real killer:
“The jury regarded him with what appeared to be both sympathy and fascination. One of the many strange aspects of The State of Texas v. Mark Alan Norwood was that at no point during the eight-day trial would the jurors hear that Michael himself had previously been found guilty of the crime, or that he had spent nearly 25 years behind bars. Before the trial, state district judge Burt Carnes had granted a request from the prosecution to exclude testimony about Michael’s conviction. Because his exoneration had wiped his record clean, he no longer had a criminal history, and the prosecution argued that any mention of his wrongful conviction might unfairly prejudice the jury against its star witness. To the people in the courtroom who were familiar with Michael’s odyssey, however, it was a mind-bending omission.”
The second part of Texas Monthly’s series on Michael Morton’s wrongful conviction for the murder of his wife (read part one here):
“It was this sense of certainty that appeared to have blinded investigators to what was surely the most incredible missed clue in the entire case: a handwritten phone message for Wood reporting that Christine’s credit card had apparently been used at a store in San Antonio two days after her murder. ‘Larry Miller can ID the woman,’ stated the message, which included a number to call. Wood did not appear to have ever investigated the lead.
“As he sifted through the papers, Michael felt ‘no anger, just bewilderment,’ he told me. ‘By that time, I had been pummeled with so much, for so long, that I recall just staring at the pages, stunned.’ For the first time in almost 25 years, he began to have a sense of clarity about what had happened. Michael carefully turned the pages and came across an eight-page transcript of a phone call that had taken place between Wood and Michael’s mother-in-law, Rita Kirkpatrick, less than two weeks after Christine’s murder. As he studied each typewritten word, Michael could feel his throat tightening.”
The first in a two-part series deconstructing the case against Michael Morton, who was convicted in 1987 of killing his wife but has maintained his innocence:
“Michael was breathing hard. ‘Is my son okay?’ he asked.
“‘He’s fine,’ Boutwell said. ‘He’s at the neighbors’.’
“‘How about my wife?’
“The sheriff was matter-of-fact. ‘She’s dead,’ he replied.
“Boutwell led Michael into the kitchen and introduced him to Sergeant Don Wood, the case’s lead investigator. ‘We have to ask you a few questions before we can get your son,’ Boutwell told him. Dazed, Michael took a seat at the kitchen table. He had shown no reaction to the news of Christine’s death, and as he sat across from the two lawmen, he tried to make sense of what was happening around him. Sheriff’s deputies brushed past him, opening drawers and rifling through cabinets. He could see the light of a camera flash exploding again and again in the master bedroom as a police photographer documented what Michael realized must have been the place where Christine was killed. He could hear officers entering and exiting his house, exchanging small talk. Someone dumped a bag of ice into the kitchen sink and stuck Cokes in it. Cigarette smoke hung in the air.”