Thomas E. Murray
Topeka Thomas E. Murray, the Kansas State University professor convicted of killing his ex-wife, Carmin D. Ross, in her rural Douglas County home, says he was denied a fair trial and wants a new one.
Murray's appeal will be heard by the Kansas Supreme Court on Sept. 6.
"The state's case was a house of cards, built on dozens of minor circumstances," Murray's appellate attorney, Sarah Ellen Johnson, argued in a legal brief.
Johnson said there was insufficient evidence to convict Murray, who is serving a life sentence. She has asked the court to reverse the conviction and order a new trial.
But Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Angela Wilson said Murray received a fair trial and that any alleged errors in the trial were harmless when compared with the "overwhelming mountain of circumstantial evidence in this case."
Ross' body was discovered Nov. 14, 2003, in her home north of Lawrence, just days after she had told Murray that her boyfriend was moving in with her.
Murray and Ross, who had divorced in 2003, had been involved in a custody dispute over their 4-year-old daughter.
In his appeal, Murray argues that during the trial, prosecutors made improper statements in closing arguments and that the court wrongfully allowed the jury to hear testimony that Murray had invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, and hearsay statements from witnesses that cast Murray in a negative light.
In closing arguments, prosecutors said Murray's blood was found in Ross' bathroom.
"There is no evidence to support that claim," Johnson wrote.
A prosecutor also said, "His best friend thinks he's a murderer." Johnson said that was a misstatement.
Also during testimony, a police detective testified that Murray had refused a follow-up interview on advice of counsel.
"The right to silence is meaningless if the invocation of that right can itself be used against a defendant," Johnson said.
But Wilson said Murray's attorneys opened the door to the detective's testimony about a follow-up interview when they asked him if there were other questions they had asked Murray.
Hearsay evidence, or what others had said Ross had said about Murray before her death, was allowable, Wilson said, because it was relevant to the marital discord and mental state of Murray.
As far as comments made during closing arguments, Wilson said Murray's attorneys failed to object at the time.
"Further, the failure to make objection deprived the trial court of the opportunity to cure any improper comment, if such comment was, in fact, improper," she wrote.