Utah Case Demonstrates Difficulty of Exonerating Clients without DNA
An article in Tuesday’s
discusses the extraordinary efforts of the
Rocky Mountain Innocence Center
to free Debra Brown, whose case is still under appeal. Released in May 2011, Brown was declared innocent under the state’s non-DNA factual innocence statute. The Attorney General then sent a message through his Twitter account that he would not appeal the decision. Shortly afterwards, he changed his mind.
spoke to RMIC president Jensie Anderson about the decision:
Anderson says she wasn’t surprised when she heard of the appeal—there’s little that warrants surprise in this kind of law, she says.
“Disappointed is a better word,” she says.
But it was more than disappointing for Brown. “It was a really black day,” Brown says. “It was like being pronounced cancer-free, and then, bam! You’re in third stage again.”
Brown was convicted of murdering her boss, 75-year-old Lael Brown, in 1995 and spent 17 years behind bars before her release. RMIC has presented new evidence of alternate suspects and witnesses in their advocacy for Brown’s exoneration.
The Utah Supreme Court is currently considering the appeal. If it reverses the judge’s innocence finding, Brown could be sent back to prison. On the other hand, if it upholds the decision, Brown will be eligible for state compensation and will be one of the very few who has been exonerated under the statute. Utah is one of only two states that even has a factual innocence statute, which allows for a retrial in cases where there is newly discovered material evidence of innocence but no DNA evidence.
As Brown waits for the Utah Supreme Court’s decision, she deals with triggers that bring her back to those years in prison. The sound of keys jingling reminds her of prison guards. She bought dark curtains for her bedroom because car lights from the parking lot remind her of a flashlight beam shining in her face. She still has nightmares of going back.
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