Last year here at The Watch, we posted a long investigation of Hugo Holland, a fired Louisiana prosecutor who found a second career as a sort of freelance prosecutor in death-penalty cases. In fact, he has more than doubled his old salary as an assistant district attorney by working as a hired gun all over the state. One of the cases in that piece was that of Corey Williams, an intellectually disabled man who appears to have been framed for a murder that was committed when he was 16. Lawyers for Williams have alleged that Holland withheld quite a bit of exculpatory evidence from Williams’ defense team.
Having lost in state court, Williams’ lawyers are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case. They are joined by 44 former prosecutors and Justice Department officials who signed on to Williams’ petition, including Michael Mukasey, who served as the attorney general during the George W. Bush administration.
Witnesses saw several older men steal money and pizza from [Jarvis] Griffin and saw Williams running from the house alone with nothing in his hands after the shooting, according to his lawyers. One of the older men, Chris Moore, was the only witness who identified Williams as the shooter.
Fingerprints found on the murder weapon belonged to one of the other older men, and the victim’s blood was found on clothing worn by a third older man, according to Williams’ lawyers.
Police officers found Williams hiding under a sheet on a couch at his grandmother’s house. He initially denied killing Griffin but changed his story after police questioned him through the night.
“His confession was brief, devoid of corroborating details,” his lawyers wrote in their March 2 petition to the Supreme Court. “Having just assumed responsibility for a homicide, Corey told the officers, ‘I’m tired. I’m ready to go home and lay down.'”
Williams’ lawyers say his conviction was based primarily on that confession and the testimony of Moore. Only after Williams’ trial did his attorneys obtain recordings of witness interviews pointing to his innocence. The withheld recordings showed police had suspected the older men were plotting to frame Williams for the killing, according to Williams’ lawyers.
As I pointed out last year, this case seems especially egregious because Holland, at one point, told the jury that for the other teens to have conspired to implicate Williams would have amounted to the greatest conspiracy since the killing of President John F. Kennedy. (Make of that what you will, I guess.) Except the tapes the state was sitting on appear to show that even the police thought that was exactly what was happening.
Williams was originally sentenced to death. That sentence was changed to life in prison after Williams’ lawyers demonstrated his disability, which they say comes from lead poisoning during his childhood. Holland opposed removing the death sentence, too.