HOUSTON (CN) – Prosecutors on Friday officially declared a Texas man innocent after he spent 10 years on death row for a double murder he didn’t commit.
In 2005, Alfred Brown was convicted of killing two people, including a Houston police officer, during an armed robbery at an ACE check cashing store.
But after 12 years in prison - 10 of them on death row - Houston Police Detective Breck McDaniel discovered telephone records that suggested Brown's innocence and corroborated his alibi. Based on the records turned over to Harris County, Brown's conviction was dismissed and the county granted his release from prison in 2015.
An investigation by special prosecutor John Raley found that McDaniel did not withhold the original records in his garage and did in fact file them with the Harris County district attorney's office.
In fact, Raley said during a press conference Friday that former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Daniel Rizzo, who prosecuted Brown, “was fully aware of the records" and knowingly failed to present them as evidence during the trial.
Email records included in a 179-page investigative report released Friday by Raley and Harris County DA Kim Ogg show prosecutors in Brown’s case knew that the records validated his alibi, Raley said.
According to Brown's testimony during the trial, he was at his girlfriend's apartment making a phone call during the fatal robbery. The alibi was recounted in his June 2017 lawsuit against Harris County prosecutors and the Houston Police Department.
Brown's girlfriend Ericka Dockery testified that he used her home telephone to call her while she was at a medical client's home.
However, Brown alleged that former Assistant DA Rizzo threatened Dockery with perjury charges if she did not alter her testimony to incriminate Brown.
"There was absolutely insufficient time" for Brown to have been at both his girlfriend’s apartment complex and the check cashing store, Raley said during the press conference.
The special prosecutor said the grand jury process “was abusive and offensive,” with one witness being threatened with sexual assault in prison if they did not corroborate Rizzo's assertions during hearings.
Due to those circumstances and the exonerating evidence, Brown “is innocent as a matter of law," Raley said.
DA Ogg has launched a subsequent investigation into Rizzo's conduct, which could include criminal charges, she said during the press conference. She declined to provide a timeframe for the ongoing investigation.
"We alleged three areas of misconduct that Dan Rizzo had committed," Ogg said.
"There's another question that needs to be answered, though, and that is whether the conduct rises to the level of criminal activity," rather than just professional incompetence, she added.
However, Ogg also said she needed to address potential conflicts of interest within Rizzo's investigation, and disclosed a 32-year friendship with him.
Ogg also left the question of Brown's civil lawsuit open. While the case had been stayed in court, Ogg said she supported Raley's findings and may seek new counsel regarding her status as a defendant in her official capacity in the civil case. She declined to say whether the parties would aim for a settlement.
Her overarching goal is the pursuit of truth, she said.
"My job is not to tell people what they want to hear, but the truth," Ogg said. "That is not always easy."
Brown's attorney Brian Stolarz with LeClairRyan in Virginia reacted positively to the investigation’s conclusion in a statement Friday.
"We are grateful to Special Counsel Raley for his thorough review of all the evidence in Dewayne's case. We are heartened that he found what we have known all along: Dewayne Brown is actually innocent and was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 12 years and 62 days,” Stolarz said. “We commend the District Attorney's commitment to the truth and ensuring that miscarriages of justice like this never happen again in Harris County. This is also a somber day as we remember the victims of this terrible crime - Officer Charles Clark and Alfredia Jones."
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