Monday, June 01, 2009

 

Paul Gregory House: A case of wrongful conviction and exoneration

In June of 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled that in the case of Paul House "no reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt." In other words, no juror in America would find Paul House guilty of the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey. One would think that when the highest court in the land says a person is not guilty, that person would be released from death row. Sadly, in the case of Paul House, another three years would pass before House would be a free man.

This ruling was not the first time House had been forced to accept unfair treatment from the Federal Court system. In 2002, the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 7 to 4 decision ruled that House deserved to have new evidence of his innocence examined by Tennessee state courts. Nearly two years later, with 4 new appointments to the Sixth Circuit, the state of Tennessee responded that it would "respectfully decline" to act on the court's mandate.

House was convicted of the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey, a woman who lived near him in Union County. The state presented rape as the motivation for the murder and as the aggravating factor that called for a sentence of death. While no eyewitnesses were available, two pieces of physical evidence pointed (supposedly) to House: semen from the victim's body matching House's blood type, and blood found on the victim's pants matching House. In recent years, however, all of this evidence has been called into question.

DNA testing has conclusively proved that Paul House did not rape Carolyn Muncey. The semen from the body actually belonged to Muncey's husband, Hubert. This fact calls into question the state's entire theory of the crime and puts suspicion on Hubert Muncey.

Since the time of the trial, two witnesses have come forward and testified that, while drunk, Muncey admitted to them that he killed his wife in a drunken argument. Muncey was widely known to be an alcoholic who routinely hit his wife. Another witness has come forward and testified that Muncey requested that she provide him with an alibi for the night of the murder, and three other witnesses have implicated Muncey.

The blood on Paul House's pants brings up even more questions. While the blood did come from Carolyn Muncey's body, the AP has reported that the pants may have been tampered with by officers. Four vials of blood were taken from the body after death, but, by the time the vials arrived for expert testing, only two and a half could be accounted for by anyone, and one empty vial showed evidence of leakage. Forensics experts have testified that the blood was likely spattered from those vials, and did not come from Muncey's body while she was alive.

In his time on death row, Paul House has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He is now confined to a wheelchair, is unable to bathe or shave himself, and has difficulty speaking.

In December 2007, Federal Judge Harry Mattice ruled that the state had 180 days to re-try House or release him. The state appealed the ruling to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals who quickly upheld the Judge's ruling. The state determined to move to re-try House on first degree murder but not seek the death penalty. House remained in state custody until bail could be set.

On July 2, 2008, after nearly 23 years on death row, Paul House was freed from prison when an anonymous donor paid his bond. House moved into the home of his mother, Joyce, under house arrest while he awaited retrial. More physical evidence in the state's possession since 1985, including a hair found in the victim's hand as well as fingernail scrapings were tested and were not a DNA match to House.

Finally, in May 12, 2009, District Attorney Paul Phillips dropped all charges against House making him the 132nd person freed from death row nationwide and the second in Tennessee.




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