TN Prosecutors Allowed Evidence To Vanish, Kept Black Defendant From Seeing It
September 7, 2020
“This set of falsehoods is typical of the conduct of
the Memphis D.A’s office during this period."
from Owens v. Guida 549 F.3d 399, 425 (6th Cir.2008),
Senior Justice Merritt dissenting
Vern Braswell was convicted of murder in Memphis, TN in 2005 after he was charged in the death of his wife after they engaged in erotic asphyxia during consensual sex. She was alive, although not feeling well, when it was over and eventually died that night while in their Jacuzzi tub.
Years later, his appeal lawyer tried to go through the routine process of “open file discovery” to gain normal access to Braswell’s legal file which contained the state’s evidence from the Braswell investigation; something that all attorneys are granted.
For about two years, Braswell’s appeal lawyer was given a myriad of nonsensical and inexplicable excuses about why she could not have access to the file. When a new prosecutor was assigned to Braswell’s case, he told Braswell's lawyer that she could see and make copies of anything in the file to prepare Braswell’s appeal. When the time came, they had the “open file discovery” meeting to review the evidence gathered by police and prosecutors prior to Braswell’s trial.
During the meeting, the two lawyers were going through the file and discovered a sealed envelope of evidence that Braswell’s lawyer wasn’t supposed to see. It was also apparent that Braswell’s original trial lawyers never saw the contents of the sealed envelope either.
Since this meeting was an “open file discovery” meeting, the prosecution lawyer was supposed to reveal the contents of the sealed envelope immediately. The prosecutor reassured Braswell's lawyer that he would reveal the contents to her at a later date because he was afraid if he opened it, he might "get in trouble” with his superiors. He never revealed the contents.
The envelope had a note attached to it that made it clear that the contents were never supposed to be shown to any of Braswell’s lawyers. After the meeting the envelope of evidence which may have exonerated Braswell disappeared. The prosecution never revealed the contents to Braswell’s lawyer nor did they reveal the contents to the local appeal judge presiding over the case. The evidence vanished into thin air. As a matter of fact, even though both lawyers gave sworn testimony about the discovery of the sealed envelope of evidence, the state prosecutors insinuated that the envelope of evidence never existed. To reiterate, this was the same sealed envelope of evidence that may have exonerated Braswell and was seen by two officers of the court. Prosecutors wanted to act like it never existed.
The local appeal judge presiding over Braswell’s case didn’t seem to have a real problem with the prosecutors’ behavior and refused to give Braswell any relief. Being unsatisfied with the local judge’s lackadaisical approach to the prosecutors vaporizing evidence that may have exonerated him, Braswell chose to appeal to a higher court.
The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals gave a scathing review of the prosecutors’ conduct (by saying “The olfactory perception of the missing envelope is not pleasant”), but ultimately concluded that because the evidence in the hands of the prosecutors vanished before the judge or before Braswell's lawyers had a chance to see it, there was nothing that could be done (Braswell v. State 2018 WL 1719443); basically as long as the prosecutors can withhold evidence that might exonerate someone and destroy it before anyone finds out what the evidence is, then the defendant will stay in prison and the prosecutors will suffer no repercussions. So goes justice for a Black man in the South in 2020
In the coming days will provide stark contrasts using the Braswell case and 5 to 6 White cases that will unequivocally illustrate the inequality and injust treatment of Blacks such as Braswell by all White prosecutors, local judges, appellate judges, and the boards that punish prosecutors for malfeasance.
(Spoiler alert, this wasn't the first time evidence that would have helped Braswell totally disappeared from the official record and case files; furthermore, even though Braswell's judges and the courts had full knowledge of it, nobody was punished nor held accountable for it.)
- Justice For Vern Braswell
& Black Defendants Matter
Follow @J4VernBraswell for details on racial injustice and corruption in the Braswell case deep in the Tennessee criminal justice system that will BLOW YOUR MIND!!!
This was composed in conjunction with Black Defendants Matter. Black Defendants Matter is responsible for researching and reviving my Vern's case. BDM WILL put an end to racism in the criminal justice system. Will you please help out?
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