For Immediate Release
ACLU Asks Supreme Court To Review Case Of Innocent Man On Texas' Death Row
Max Soffar Never Given Opportunity To Present Evidence Pointing To His Innocence
NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union and the
Texas Innocence Network (TIN) today petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court
to review the wrongful conviction of an innocent man who has sat on
Texas' death row for nearly three decades.
In their petition, the ACLU and TIN
argue that Max Soffar, whose conviction and death sentence in the
killing of three people during an armed robbery at a Houston bowling
alley in 1980 were based on a false confession, has never been given an
opportunity to present evidence that points strongly to his innocence.
"The death penalty system in our
country is impossible to trust when innocent people sit for decades on
death row without ever being afforded a fair trial or the opportunity to
present all existing evidence," said Brian Stull, staff attorney with
the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. "The Supreme Court should take up
this case and establish, once and for all, that when available defenses
are hidden from the jury, the verdict cannot stand."
Soffar was convicted and sentenced to
death in 1981, but a federal court in 2004 reversed the conviction
because he was represented by incompetent lawyers who failed to show the
jury that most of the details in his confession were contradicted by
the account of the surviving witness and other evidence in the case.
Soffar was tried again in 2006 and
again convicted and sentenced to death. In that trial, however, the
trial judge refused to allow a statement of Paul Reid confessing to the
murders. Reid, formerly of Houston, now awaits execution on Tennessee's
death row for committing a series of similar robbery-murders in that
state. A photograph of Reid taken at his wedding nine days after the
bowling alley murders strongly resembles the police's composite sketch
based on the description of the crime's sole witness.
Additionally, the only correct
details in Soffar's false confession were widely disseminated in media
reports that the trial judge refused to allow Soffar to utilize as part
of his defense. Because the trial court refused to allow Soffar to
present the media reports to the jury, prosecutors were able to claim
that the details in Soffar's false confession could only be known by the
person responsible for the crime.
False confessions are among the
leading causes of wrongful convictions, and evidence shows that people
like Soffar who are impulsive, have low self esteem and who are prone to
fantasy and disassociation are the most likely candidates for false
confessions. Soffar had a known history of giving police officers
unreliable information, and the police knew that Soffar had falsely
confessed to other crimes.
"The conviction of Max Soffar and the
fact that he remains on death row exemplify all of the fundamental
failures of our criminal justice system," said David Dow of TIN. "We are
hopeful that the Supreme Court will examine this case and that Texas
will not execute yet another innocent man."
A copy of today's petition is
available online at: www.aclu.org/capital-
Additional information about Soffar's
case is available online at: www.aclu.org/capital/
Lawyers on the case are Stull and
John Holdridge of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project and Dow and Jared
Tyler of the TIN.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.