Donnis George Musgrove

An Alabama inmate who has spent almost 30 years on death row for a murder he denies committing has an unusual supporter in his bid for freedom: A state judge who once represented the man’s co-defendant while working as a defense lawyer.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tommy Nail told The Associated Press in an interview this week he believes Donnis George Musgrove and another man were wrongly convicted of capital murder in 1988, and he hopes a federal court now reviewing Musgrove’s appeal corrects the error.

From a report in the Guardian:

The defense says in court documents that later scientific tests prove the 9 mm casing used as evidence against Musgrove was planted at the scene and wasn’t tied to the crime at all. And besides, Musgrove’s lawyers contend: Witness testimony and phone records showed he was in Florida, hundreds of miles away, at the time of the killing.

Add it all up, the defense claims, and Musgrove should be set free.

“To successfully plead actual innocence, a petitioner must show that his conviction resulted from a constitutional violation,” Musgrove’s lawyers wrote in court documents submitted to US district judge David Proctor, who is considering the case. “Here, the evidence shows decisively that Mr. Musgrove is innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to death.”

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“Musgrove, 67, was sentenced to die for the gunshot killing of Coy Eugene Barron in 1986, but his attorneys maintain the prosecution falsified every piece of evidence against him, including witness statements and a shell casing that was used to link him to the slaying.”

Death row inmate dies before ruling on whether to exonerate him November 27, 2015

Anthony Ray Hinton was released on Good Friday last year 2014. He was prosecuted by the same attorney, in front of the same judge, using the same ballistics expert. And the United States Supreme Court overturned his conviction last year. And after the time that had passed he was also on death row since the late 1980’s,” said Jackson.

Jackson says Musgrove will never get that chance.

“Donnis maintained his innocence the entire time from the moment he was arrested until his death. And the appeal had several issues, there were several problems. His constitutional rights were violated because the prosecution coached some witnesses and offered perjured testimony at the trial. The prosecution and the investigating officers switched some shell casings with some bullets that allowed the prosecution’s expert to try to link up a weapon with Donnis and his co-defendant,” said Jackson.

Jackson says that Musgrove’s defense attorney during the trial had never tried a capital murder case before and made several errors.

“So there were lots of reasons that Donnis’s conviction should never have happened and we continued to try to raise those on appeal over the last 20 years,” said Jackson.

A federal appeals court had yet to issue a ruling on those issues when Musgrove passed away on November 25th, 2015. The questions raised in the appeal have not been answered.

“Unfortunately they will not. This appeal will die with Mr. Musgrove. And we are so sad that he did not live to be exonerated because we firmly believe that he was an innocent man and wrongfully convicted,” said Jackson.


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