Clay Chabot’s 1986 Dallas Murder Conviction Is Expected to Be Vacated at Hearing Friday Morning Based on DNA Results
Hearing set for 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 19; Innocence Project, which represents Chabot, says he should be released on bond after the hearing
(DALLAS, TX; October 18, 2007) – At a hearing Friday morning in Dallas, Clay Chabot’s 1986 murder conviction should be thrown out based on DNA test results pointing to a key prosecution witness whose testimony helped convict him, the Innocence Project said today. In separate motions filed in recent days, the Innocence Project and the Dallas County District Attorney’s office said Chabot’s conviction should be vacated based on the DNA results.
While the District Attorney’s office investigates the case to determine whether to retry Chabot – even though the only evidence against him is testimony from a witness now proven to have lied to hide his own guilt – the Innocence Project will argue that Chabot should be released on bond after the hearing. Chabot’s family members will attend Friday morning’s hearing in hopes of leaving the courthouse with him.
Chabot was convicted of murdering a Garland, Texas, woman who was found bound, gagged, raped and shot to death in her home in April 1986. The primary evidence against Chabot was the testimony of Jerry Pabst, who testified that he and Chabot went to the woman’s home together – and that Pabst was in another room of the home when Chabot raped and shot the woman. Pabst, who was originally the suspect in the case, received a deal from prosecutors that allowed him to walk free within days of Chabot’s conviction. This summer, DNA testing conducted by Orchid Cellmark showed that Pabst’s testimony was false and that he – not Chabot – committed the crime. Pabst was indicted for capital murder and arrested in Ohio in late July, but Chabot has remained in prison.
In a court motion for Friday’s hearing that was filed earlier this month, the Innocence Project said that Pabst’s testimony was “the only evidence that directly placed Mr. Chabot at the crime scene” and that DNA testing shows Pabst’s claims to be “sheer lies.” The motion also says that “whether Pabst committed this crime alone or with another accomplice, once his testimony is exposed for the self-serving falsehood that it is, there is not a shred of credible evidence establishing that Clay Chabot had anything to do with this crime.” The motion includes proposed findings for the court, reflecting the parties’ agreement that Chabot should at least should get a new trial because of the new DNA evidence which proves that Pabst committed perjury.
“For 21 years, Clay Chabot has insisted that he had nothing to do with this crime, and DNA evidence finally confirms what he has said all along,” said Vanessa Potkin, Staff Attorney at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. The Innocence Project represents Chabot along with Bruce Anton of Sorrels, Udashen & Anton in Dallas. Potkin and Anton will attend Friday morning’s hearing with Chabot and will ask the court to immediately free Chabot on bail pending further proceedings in the case.
Chabot was a friend of the victim’s husband, and Pabst was Chabot’s brother-in-law. Chabot, a Navy veteran with no criminal record, always maintained that he was asleep with his wife and infant son at the time of the crime. Pabst was arrested three days after the murder. His car matched a description of an unfamiliar car seen in the victim’s driveway on the morning of the crime, and he had pawn tickets for the victim’s stolen radio and her husband’s stolen pocketknife in is possession. Despite the evidence against Pabst, prosecutors tried Chabot for the crime – and presented Pabst as the centerpiece of the case against him. Pabst claimed that, under duress, he went to the victim’s home with Chabot to collect on a bad drug bet. Prosecutors alleged that Chabot was angry about the poor quality of $450 drugs he had bought from the victim’s husband. At the trial, the victim’s husband said that, in fact, he had offered to buy the drugs back from Chabot, but Chabot declined. But Pabst’s testimony at the trial convinced the jury of Chabot’s guilt, and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Within days, Pabst was free. Prosecutors dismissed the pending murder indictment against him and allowed him to plead to theft of the victim’s radio, with a sentence of 30 days in jail, time served. This victim’s family was not told that charges against Pabst were dropped. Janice Warder, who prosecuted Chabot, later said in federal testimony that she had told Pabst and his attorney, “You testify, and I’ll do the fair and just thing,” which Chabot’s attorneys argued reflected an agreement to dismiss the murder charge. Warder told the judge and jury that Pabst did not receive a deal in exchange for testifying. Recently, she was quoted in news accounts saying she had been “duped” by Pabst and said, “Looking back, I certainly wish we had the benefit of what we have now.”
The 78-page motion filed for tomorrow’s hearing reflects the recent agreement between the office of D.A. Craig Watkins and Chabot’s attorneys that, at the very least, the new DNA evidence shows that Pabst lied on the stand and that Chabot was denied a fair trial as a result. The motion also says that documents disclosed by the state years after trial show that prosecutors violated the law by making an explicit deal with Pabst in exchange for his testimony – now proven false – against Chabot. The motion also details the lack of any other credible evidence linking Chabot to the crime, and says that no jury would convict him today.
“The evidence is plain that Jerry Pabst, not Clay Chabot, committed this crime. There is no basis for retrying Clay for this crime, since there is no credible reason to believe that he had anything to do with it. We hope the nightmare he and his family have endured for 21 years will come to an end soon,” said Bruce Anton of Sorrels, Udashen & Anton in Dallas, which is co-counsel with the Innocence Project.
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