Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Judge Melinda Harmon of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas ordered a new trial for death row inmate Robert Fratta, who was convicted based upon evidence that he hired Howard Guidry to kill his wife in 1994. Part of Fratta's claim was that investigators lied to Guidry by telling him that his lawyer gave him permission to talk about the event when, in fact, no such conversation had taken place. Fratta's attorneys thus claimed that Guidry's confession should have been inadmissible to implicate Fratta, and Harmon agreed, holding that police deception alone secured Guidry's cooperation.
It is unsurprising that such deception would have rendered Guidry's confession inadmissible, but what I find more interesting is that the articles reporting Harmon's decision also make reference to the fact that Fratta's attorneys claimed that investiagtors "misused" hearsay evidence to secure Guidry's confession. I'm not sure how investigators could "misuse" hearsay to secure a confession in a manner which would render the confession inadmissible or how evidence could even be definitively classified as hearsay at the stage where investigators were merely interrogating Guidry. Of course, maybe this argument was rejected by Harmon as she focused solely on the lie about the lawyer. After reading Harmon's decision, it will be interesting to see what, if any, role the "hearsay" evidence played.