Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chance at a real trial for Cory Maye

One of the more controversial prisoners behind the bars of any prison in the United States -- Cory Maye -- is getting a new trial. After eight years in a Mississippi prison for killing a police officer, during which time his case has raised questions about paramilitary police tactics, self defense, the reliability of informants, racial bias and junk science, the Court of Appeals of the State of Mississippi ruled that Maye should have been tried in his own county, as he requested, not in a neighboring county. The defendant will, at long last, have another chance to assert his innocence -- this time with a chorus of supporters, including prominent attorneys and journalists.

In Mississippi, everybody agrees that police had a warrant to raid the apartment adjacent to Maye's in a Prentiss, Mississippi, duplex, on a tip alleging drug sales, on the night of December 26, 2001. During the course of the raid, officers forced their way into Maye's apartment for which they also had a warrant, apparently believing it was connected to the targeted unit. After police broke down the door, Officer Ron Jones was fatally shot by Cory Maye.

That's pretty much the extent of the agreement. Police claim they announced themselves and that Maye looked out and saw them, so knew they were police when they pounded on the door and then forced their way inside. Maye says he was sleeping in a chair and awoke to the sounds of loud banging, so retreated to his daughter's bedroom where he could defend himself and the girl as unknown assailants entered the home.
Upon searching Maye's home, police found only a small amount of marijuana, raising questions as to why a man with a clean record would knowingly shoot  a police officer.

More questions were raised later, including the prominent role played in the trial by Dr. Steven Hayne, a controversial medical examiner whose competence was was widely derided by forensic pathologists outside Mississippi -- and who was ultimately fired after loud and public complaints that he had railroaded innocent defendants (although he may be slithering his way back into lucrative work courtesy of legal shenanigans).

There were also questions about the warrant in the case, which was based on the word of a confidential informant vouched for by Officer Ron Jones, who left no notes and was obviously unable to fill in the gaps himself after the fact. Maye's name wasn't mentioned in the warrant and Jones apparently didn't verify the information he received before the raid was staged.

These issues didn't prove critical to the appeals court, however. The court focused on the refusal of the trial judge to transfer the case back to majority-black Jefferson Davis County, where the shooting took place, and instead hold it in a majority white county despite Maye's desire to be tried near the scene of the raid. The trial had originally been moved at the request of Maye's defense counsel -- an attorney with no capital murder experience -- who asked to reverse the request after being warned by local lawyers that a fair trial was impossible in the new venue.

In fact, Maye's original death sentence was commuted to life in prison because of concerns about  his attorney's competence.

For the majority, Chief Judge Leslie D. King wrote:
Finding that the trial court abused its discretion in not allowing Maye to exercise the constitutional right to be tried in the county where the offense occurred, the judgment of the trial court is reversed, and this case remanded for a new trial.
Maye's case has been championed by libertarian journalist Radley Balko, who wrote a major article about the case for Reason in 2006. Balko also played a major role in exposing Dr. Steven Hayne. Balko's efforts, as well as those of volunteer attorneys and other journalists, will give Maye a new chance to make his case, and to address concerns raised since the first trial.



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