In an announcement late Friday, Harris County, Texas, District Attorney Kim Ogg revealed that a former prosecutor withheld a key email that could have prevented Alfred Dewayne Brown from receiving the death penalty.
As the Houston Chronicle reports, the email helped establish “a clear alibi” for Brown, who was convicted in a high-profile murder case in 2005 that landed him on death row.
Brown always maintained his innocence and spent nearly 10 years on death row before his case was dismissed in 2015 and his conviction overturned. According to the Chronicle, the 36-year-old Brown later sued a slew of Harris County officials, including the DA’s office, the prosecutor and the police officer who handled the murder case, accusing them of hiding and falsifying evidence against him and violating his constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.
The new email, which came to light because of Brown’s lawsuit, backs up his claims, showing that the prosecutor at the time, Dan Rizzo, was aware of evidence that could have exculpated Brown.
Some necessary context: Brown was accused and convicted of killing a Houston police officer and a store clerk during a robbery at a check-cashing store. But Brown maintained that there was no way he could have done the crime because he was at his girlfriend’s house at the time of the murders.
And he could prove that he was at his girlfriend’s house, Brown said, because he had placed a call to her at work from her house phone at the time of the murders. But as the Chronicle reports, for years, officials claimed that they had no record of such a call.
That changed in 2014, when an investigator, Breck McDaniel, found phone records in his garage that supported Brown’s alibi. The discovery was enough to overturn Brown’s conviction. At the time, the Chronicle writes, the DA claimed that the phone records had simply been “inadvertently misplaced.”
The newly released email refutes that claim. A day after Brown’s girlfriend testified before a grand jury that Brown had called her from her apartment, McDaniel wrote to then-prosecutor Rizzo about the phone records.
From the Chronicle:
“I was hoping that it would clearly refute Erica’s claim that she received a call at work,” McDaniel wrote, later continuing: “But, it looks like the call detail records from the apartment shows that the home phone dialed Erica’s place of employment on Hartwick Street at about 8:30 a.m. and again at 10:08 a.m.”
Rizzo didn’t share the evidence with Brown’s legal team or the jury—a clear Brady violation.
In light of the evidence, Brown’s lawyers want the current Harris County DA, Ogg, to formally declare their client “actually innocent”—a label that would allow Brown to get compensation from the state for his wrongful conviction.
After his overturned sentence in 2015, Brown petitioned the state for nearly $2 million in compensation for the years he spent on death row, but the request was denied by state officials because he hadn’t met the eligibility requirement, since Brown was never found “actually innocent.”
That phrase ended up pushing Brown to sue Harris County officials for their denial of his due process rights. The civil lawsuit has certainly borne fruit; without it, the email would never have come out, and the public wouldn’t know not only that Brown was telling the truth the whole time, but also that the real criminals may actually be the Harris County DA’s office.
“Vindication,” tweeted Brian Stolarz, one of Brown’s attorneys when he appealed his criminal case.
“Only now, after a civil lawsuit, does the whole truth finally come out,” Stolarz added in a statement, according to the Chronicle. “I am sickened and disheartened, but encouraged that Dewayne is vindicated and his long journey to justice is near the end.”