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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sharon Keller outvoted 8-1 and innocent woman was released

Have you ever seen that old movie with Henry Fonda called "12 Angry Men" about a murder trial where everyone on the jury votes to convict except one person who thinks the defendant is innocent. He eventually changes everyone's minds and they vote "not guilty" unanimously. Sharon Keller tried to pull a Henry Fonda last December on the CCA in the case of Brandy Del Briggs, but she could not succeed in changing even one person's mind. It was a bit different than in the movie though. Everyone thought the person was innocent, except Keller, who could not convince one single person that she was right. Keller is running for re-election as presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals against Democrat J.R. Molina.

Texans have come to expect the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule Keller and lower federal courts to overrule her, but now she is out of step with her own all-Republican court, which is increasingly turning against her. The vote in this case was 8 to 1 and she lost. Everyone else thought Briggs' conviction should be overturned, but not Keller. No one wanted to support her though. She is the presiding judge and she gets no respect on her own court. In the Republican primary last Spring, she was challenged by one of the other Republican members of her court, who said she had made the CCA a "national laughingstock".

Today, The Houston Chronicle is reporting that Brandy Del Briggs is seeking to regain custody of the child she had lost custody of after she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her other child. Briggs was exonerated and released after spending five years in prison wrongfully convicted of killing her other child. Keller was the only member of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who voted to deny relief to Brandy Del Briggs. The vote on the court was 8-1 with Keller being the one. Forget about "12 Angry Men", this was "Rebel without a Cause" since Keller had no cause to go it alone. Everyone else voted to overturn the conviction on grounds that the "applicant's attorney failed to adequately investigate this case under the standards set out in Strickland v. Washington and Wiggins v. Smith." Keller argued in her dissent that the trial counsel was not ineffective, but that he was following a "reasonable trial strategy".

Brandy Del Briggs was released in December 2005. Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal recently dropped charges against her because he could not prove she was guilty. The Houston Chronicle wrote an editorial arguing that she should be compensated for the five years she spent in prison:

Whatever Rosenthal's personal beliefs or intuition about the cause of baby Daniel's death, he has admitted he cannot make the case against Briggs. Unless the definition of innocence in Harris County depends on Rosenthal's unsubstantiated opinions, that makes this one-time defendant innocent and qualified for state restitution funds.
Briggs was charged with murder in the May 1999 death of her first son, Daniel Lemons. She pleaded guilty to injury to a child and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

She denied harming 2-month-old Daniel but said her attorney told her she would receive probation if she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge. The attorney, Richard Anderson, has denied saying that.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Briggs' conviction last December and she was released. The court cited ineffective counsel, saying her lawyer had not thoroughly investigated Daniel's medical records.

Experts who reviewed the records for her appellate attorney, Charles Portz, said a birth defect had caused a bacterial infection in the infant, who had been in and out of hospitals. They also said a breathing tube mistakenly was inserted in Daniel's stomach rather than his lungs at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, depriving his brain of oxygen for at least 30 minutes.

His death originally was ruled a homicide, but Harris County Medical Examiner Luis Sanchez later changed the ruling to "undetermined," saying he found no evidence of abuse.

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