A woman on trial for murdering another woman so that she could steal her husband is alleging that the state ignored and airholed key information that would have led to the arrest of another man who was serving a sentence in Maine. The prisoner in Maine allegedly confessed to the murder to a jailhouse inmate who then alerted prosecutors. He told the inmate that he was dressed in a clown suit and shot a woman as she opened the door. The case has been cold for decades until recently, police charged Sheila Keen-Warren with the death. She is now on trial for first-degree murder.
Her defense team contends that police ignored key evidence that would have exonerated their client. They say that while many individuals confessed to the murder, police took the confession of one man seriously enough to fly out to Maine to interview him. The man demanded that he confess to the killing, the death penalty would be taken off the table. The detective said he could not agree to that and the talks stalled there with the suspect demanding an attorney. Defense attorneys claim they had no idea that police considered another suspect. The confession was allegedly overheard by two guards as well.
What actually happened?
Prosecutors are forced by law to divulge any exculpatory evidence to the court during a trial. However, the matter is left to their discretion. The prosecutors can claim that the confession was not credible and hence, on that basis, not disclose the information to defense counsel. This, of course, is legally and morally objectionable. The prosecutors, of course, know that the evidence could be used by the defense to exonerate their client. They are not the absolute arbiters of what is credible and not credible. When they withhold evidence from defense attorneys, and it comes out later, convictions are vacated on appeal and prosecutors can be charged with prosecutorial misconduct.
Obviously, withholding any information that could be used by the defense team is against the rules of criminal procedure. To avoid this, the prosecutor insists that he was under no obligation to divulge his conversation with the potential murder suspect. The prosecutor has said that the suspect did not provide credible information.
The defendant has entered a not-guilty plea. Her trial will begin in June. She appears ready to fight the allegations and her attorneys have characterized the evidence against her as “weak”.
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