(CN) - A state judge in Houston ripped prosecutors and the defense attorney as "spectacularly incompetent," and apologized to a man who was in jail at the time of an armed robbery for which he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
LaDondrell Montgomery, 36, of Houston, insisted from the beginning that he was not the person identified by eyewitnesses in an armed robbery.
In November, a jury did not believe the habitual offender and sentenced him to life in prison.
State District Judge Mark Kent Ellis threw out Montgmery's conviction on Dec. 8.
Shaking his head, Ellis ripped into Assistant Harris County District Attorney Alison Baimbridge and defense attorney Ronald Ray, who learned several days after sentencing that Montgomery was in jail at the time of the crime in December 2009.
The judge personally apologized to Montgomery.
"It boggles the mind that neither side knew about this during trial," Ellis lamented. "Both sides in this case were spectacularly incompetent."
Ray told the Houston Chronicle that he had been working to untangle Montgomery from six alleged robberies, and that his client had been in and out of custody so many times that he was unable to remember dates.
"I have freed a man from a life sentence, so if you want to say I'm incompetent for doing that, I'll accept that with a smile," Ray said.
Baimbridge said the first time she or her office were told about the alibi in a motion for a new trial, the claim was investigated, and, satisfied with the accuracy of the Harris County jail records, she joined the request for a new trial and dismissal of the charge.
"It's happened before," Baimbridge told the Chronicle. "Normally, we are notified prior to or during trial, that the defendant may have been in custody during the time of the offense - and we investigate it."
She pointed out that prosecutors generally cannot question suspects.
"I have not ever personally spoken with this defendant," Baimbridge said. "That information, everyone would assume, would come from the person in custody."
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.