Archive for Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Appeals court overturns conviction in road rage killing

June 27, 2007


— A state appeals court on Tuesday overturned the conviction of a man serving an 18-year prison sentence for helping his father kill a driver who had yelled at them when their truck veered into his lane.

In overturning the conviction of Thomas M. Brown Jr., a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals' Western District found the prosecutor had offered what amounted to unsworn testimony during closing arguments when she commented on a defense witness.

Brown, 29, of Kansas City, was convicted in July 2005 of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the fatal stabbing of Edward A. Chacon, 29, in 2001.

Prosecutors argued that Brown and his father, who each weighed more than 300 pounds, attacked the 115-pound Chacon in a restaurant 15 minutes after they had exchanged words in traffic. Prosecutors said the men spotted Chacon's car outside a Waffle House restaurant, went inside with a hammer and folding knife, and attacked him.

During Brown's trial, the defense had argued that he was defending himself and his father, Thomas Brown Sr., who was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the attack.

Waffle House customer Russell Fletcher testified that as the senior Brown attacked, Chacon had tried to stand up and had put his hand on a butter knife for protection but that the knife never left the table.

The defense noted that Fletcher's testimony differed from a deposition in which he said Chacon had reached down and grabbed the butter knife after standing up. When questioned by the defense, Fletcher denied that assistant prosecutor Amber Gonzalez had coached him to say that the butter knife never left the table.

But Brown's aunt, Anita Brown, testified that during a break in the elder Brown's trial she overheard Gonzalez tell Fletcher to testify that the butter knife never left the table.

Over the defense's objections, Gonzalez discussed the credibility of Anita Brown during closing arguments.

"The idea," Gonzalez told jurors, "that an officer of the court, a prosecutor, would risk a law license, a career, a law degree, years of had work, on one case is so offensive and completely ridiculous that we ask that you take Mrs. Brown's testimony for what it is worth, which is nothing."

The defense argued that the trial court erred when it overturned its objections to Gonzalez's comments.

The appeals court agreed, writing in its ruling that Gonzalez in effect offered testimony in which she "improperly touted her own credibility to the jury and implied special knowledge to the jury."

"This unsworn, untested testimony went to a crucial issue in the case - whether she coached a witness to say that Chacon did not pick up the butter knife first. This testimony effectively rebutted Brown's self defense and defense of a third person defenses because if believed it would prove that Chacon was not the initial aggressor," the appeals court wrote.

The Jackson County prosecutor's office would not immediately comment on the ruling.

Brown's attorney, Kent Denzel, said he was waiting to find out whether the Missouri attorney general's office planned to appeal to the state Supreme Court. He said that decision would need to be made before prosecutors considered whether to retry the case.


costello 10 years, 11 months ago

Two 300+ lb men holding a hammer and a knife follow a 115 lb man into a restaurant and kill him then claim self-defense? It's hard for me to believe that the jury would have considered the victim to have been the aggressor, especially as his "weapon" was a butter knife.

I certainly hope this guy is retried.

ramsrevenge 10 years, 11 months ago

Why is it so easy for people to kill other people? I just don't get it?

This story brought me way down today so I have to bring you all with me...

Jamesaust 10 years, 11 months ago

I'd be upset with the trial judge if I were the family of this victim.

The crucial point here is that there was an allegation that the prosecutor, on a key evidentiary point, suborned perjury.

The defense had already been overruled (correctly, imho) to have the prosecutor removed since she might be called as a witness on this point. But here, in a closing statement - not the testimony part of the trial - the prosecutor offers an argument that includes facts about herself that only she knows and that were not testified to during the trial. That is, facts, concerning a claim crucial to the defense, were not subject to cross-examination. She didn't say all this suddenly but rather the judge evaluated the objection and then rather that instruct the prosecutor to stick to the facts already in evidence let her go ahead.

Had the prosecutor merely noted that the jury would need to weigh the believability of the accuser - the wife and mother of these vicious killers - or the prosecutor herself, that would have been allowable; you're allowed to question the credibility of witnesses but not by talking up the credibility of others if they - and their credibility - weren't introduced into evidence. She went far beyond that WITH the judge's permission. While I'm fairly certain that this alternative won't make any difference to the outcome, that's still error that undermines a fair defense and so the whole thing will have to be done again at taxpayer expense (and at the "expense" of the victim's family).

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