News 05.13.09

Paul House and His Elated Mother Celebrate Exoneration with a Trip to California

Paul House may have lost over two decades of his life in prison as a result to his wrongful conviction, but he and his mother are looking toward the future. With Paul’s grandfather’s 90th birthday coming up, his mother couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than a trip to visit him in California where he lives.   

In the 22 years that Paul House served in prison, he maintained his innocence and hoped new evidence would exonerate him. More than two decades years after House was sentenced to death, DNA testing and other evidence finally cleared his name yesterday in the rape and murder of Carolyn Muncey. Semen on Muncey's clothes, the blood under her fingernails and the hair she ripped out of her attacker's head were all discovered to have belonged to someone else, not House.

House’s case highlights the need for courts to look closely at appeals based on new evidence of innocence. 

Today’s Los Angeles Times noted that the Supreme Court narrowly agreed to grant House a new federal hearing on evidence of his innocence, after other courts refused:

Long after his conviction, however, DNA evidence proved that a semen stain on the victim's clothes had come from her husband, not House.

But the Tennessee courts and the federal appeals court said that evidence did not prove he was not guilty. The judges said there was still "strong circumstantial" evidence against House. One dissenter on the federal court, however, called the case "an authentic whodunit where the wrong man may be executed."

For two decades, the Supreme Court had put up procedural barriers against reconsidering old cases. But the justices took up House's appeal to consider, for the first time, whether new DNA evidence could require reopening an old case.

In a 5-3 decision in House vs. Bell, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said that "reliable new evidence" calls for taking a new look at an old case if it casts real doubt on the defendant's guilt. If the court had split 4-4, the conviction would have been upheld.

The three dissenters, led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., said House did not "present such compelling evidence of innocence" to require reopening his case.

Media coverage of Paul House’s case:

Complete Los Angeles Times story:

Murder Charges Dropped Because of DNA Evidence

The Tennessean:

Legal Limbo Ends for Paul House



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