Supreme Court to Consider Issue of Withheld Evidence

(CN) – The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to review the cases of seven men who claim prosecutors withheld evidence that could have aided them in their trial for a 1984 murder.

The petitioners were convicted of the Oct. 1, 1984 kidnapping, armed robbery and murder of Catherine Fuller, a District of Columbia mother of six, based largely on the testimony of alleged eyewitnesses.

In all, 12 people were put on trial for the murder, although two plead guilty and agreed to testify for the government. Two were eventually acquitted. One of those convicted died in prison.

Decades later, a Washington Post reporter learned that defense attorneys had not received a statement suggesting someone else committed the murder, and additional discovery later revealed that prosecutors failed to turn over other evidence that could have been helpful for the defendants.

The men sought to vacate their convictions based on the assertion they’d been denied a fair trial because the government withheld exculpatory and impeachment evidence in violation of its obligation established by the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland.

Brady established that the prosecution must turn over all evidence that might exonerate a defendant to the defense.

They also argued the newly discovered evidence, including witness recantations, established their actual innocence of the crimes against Fuller.

But after a three-week hearing in 2012, Judge Frederick Weisberg of the District of Columbia Superior Court denied the motions.

The case next moved to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which affirmed Weisberg’s decision.

“We conclude that appellants’ Brady claims fail because appellants have not shown a reasonable probability that the outcome of their trial would have been different had the government disclosed the withheld evidence in timely fashion,” the court wrote, adding “Appellants’ IPA claims fail because the motions judge found the witness recantations to be incredible and appellants therefore have not established their actual innocence by a preponderance of the evidence.”

The justices did not explain their rationale for taking up the case, but granted the writs of certiorari on Thursday on a single, limited question: Whether the petitioners’ convictions much be set aside under the 1963 case, Brady.