EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Baltimore Man Freed After 30+ Years in Prison Based on Numerous Brady Violations After Motion to Reopen

In the last night's Addendum Episode of the Undisclosed Podcast, we talked about the Richard A. Nicolas case and the State's failure to disclose two key witness statements. There was another recent case out of Baltimore that involved a similar fact pattern. It also involved a motion to reopen.

The case in question is Griffin v. Baltimore Police Department. In Griffin, Wendell Griffin was convicted of the 1981 murder of James William Wise. According to the Appellant's Brief,

During proceedings in 2011 on Mr. Griffin's petition for post-conviction DNA testing of certain items of evidence, counsel for Mr. Griffin obtained police files pursuant to the Maryland Public Information Act that contained statements by two eyewitnesses who failed to identify Mr. Griffin in three photo arrays conducted by police. Also discovered were other witness statements that contradicted the eyewitness testimony introduced by the State at Mr. Griffin's trial. Further, evidence tending to show that others  may have committed the crime was similarly suppressed, depriving Mr. Griffin of the opportunity to construct an adequate defense. The police detectives responsible for the investigation, Defendants Jerry Landsman, Donald Kincaid and Edward Brown ("the Detectives"), did not disclose the results of the photo arrays, the contradictory witness statements, or the evidence incriminating others to the State's Attorney's Office, a violation of the extension of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) as recognized by the Fourth Circuit.

The newly discovered evidence showed that the Detectives suppressed direct, exculpatory evidence that Mr. Griffin did not commit the April 22, 1981 murder of James William Wise. The internal police records produced for the first time in 2011 reveal that shortly after Mr. Wise was murdered on April 22, 1981, the police showed photo-arrays containing Mr. Griffin's picture to two key witnesses: Annie Wyche, who heard the shots fired that killed Mr. Wise and came within 8-10 feet of the shooter; and Mark Williams, who stumbled upon the crime scene immediately after the shooting and saw a person from 10 feet away dragging the body of Mr. Wise. Both witnesses failed to identify Mr. Griffin. Precisely because these statements excluding Mr. Griffin as the shooter directly contradicted the police theory that Mr. Griffin murdered Mr. Wise, the Detectives suppressed them. In addition to suppressing direct, exculpatory eyewitness testimony, the Detectives also suppressed witness statements indicating that Mr. Griffin was not in possession of a firearm around the time of the murder, statements which contradicted a central aspect of the prosecution's circumstantial case against Mr. Griffin. Finally, the Detectives suppressed witness statements indicating that someone other than Mr. Griffin may have been responsible for the murder.

Based upon this evidence, Griffin filed a Motion for Leave to Reopen Post Conviction and for Post Conviction Relief on February 2, 2012. 

On May 23, 2012, the Honorable Gail Rasin of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, indicated that she was prepared to order a new trial, and she granted an unopposed motion reducing plaintiff's sentenced to time served. Plaintiff was freed but placed on three years of unsupervised probation. Plaintiff's conviction remains standing.

Griffin illustrates a three key points. First, there is no time limit on Brady claims because they are based on undisclosed evidence. In Griffin, the defendant's Brady claim was made 30 years after conviction. Second, there have been cases in which the Circuit Court for Baltimore City has granted motions to reopen. Third, it makes sense to include Brady claims in a DNA petition if at all possible. In Griffin, the defendant had little leverage and had to settle for a release rather than an exoneration.



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At the conclusion of yesterday’s podcast, Rabia mentioned the Brady violation that will be the subject of the next episode. She did not qualify the violation in any way to indicate, for example, that it’s “possible” or “likely,” with or without an adverb; in fact, a listener is left to infer that there is no doubt in the matter. Is that true? If it is, why is it not now before the court? How likely is it that it will end up there?

Posted by: streetwriter | Aug 18, 2015 9:50:11 AM

I really hope that your "anonymous" witness for next episode is 100% legitimate.

Posted by: anon | Aug 18, 2015 11:15:11 AM

Colin, can you explain what you mean about Griffin having 'little leverage'? Do you see Adnan as having greater 'leverage'? Thanks.

Posted by: Bev | Aug 18, 2015 11:23:45 AM

I just started reading David Simon’s “Homicide” and I think I recognize some names here...

I can’t stop thinking about how shocking these Brady violations are. Are they as common as they seem? If so, why, and can we speculate whether they are typically done knowingly and intentionally, or not? I imagine they are difficult to catch and if they are caught at all, it’s post-conviction and essentially after-the-fact. Fighting it would require going through a lengthy legal process similar to the one Adnan is going through now. The likelihood of getting caught and punished seems relatively slim, making the risk of knowingly committing a violation not-so-intimidating. And that’s disturbing.

Posted by: Meghan | Aug 18, 2015 12:13:27 PM

Professor Moore, do you think the Baltimore PD has generated an unusually high number of wrongful convictions? Has this been analyzed? Thanks for your hard work here

Posted by: Serial Companion | Aug 18, 2015 4:36:01 PM

Streetwriter: "But getting back to Adnan's case, what if beyond the kinds of impropriety we've discussed an even more serious violation took place? A Brady violation that was never disclosed to the defense, and has never been reported before, that turns the case on its head. We've spent a long time investigating this new information. Information that's actually from an anonymous source and left us all shocked. And we are finally ready to talk about it. Next time on Undisclosed."

anon: We’ve dotted I’s and crossed t’s.

Bev: I just mean that his case was at a point procedurally where it was tougher to get relief.

Meghan: Great book.

Serial Companion: I would love to see empirical data, if its exists.

Posted by: Colin | Aug 19, 2015 6:14:37 AM

Why does it take 30 years for defense to get access to police files? Maybe law should be changed.

Posted by: anon | Aug 19, 2015 6:29:31 AM

I have 11 unposted comments about reddit. I would prefer to keep the comments focused on the content of my posts, so I'm going to stop approving comments about reddit.

RR: I don't know that I'd draw the same inference about "Ann." That said, I assume "Ann" will be contacted by the PI, and we'll see what she has to say.

Posted by: Colin | Aug 19, 2015 5:17:09 PM

I hope the anonymous source is someone who works at Baltimore PD who looked at the file and saw that there is a lot that wasn't turned over to the defense. Or perhaps someone who knows that Urick withheld Brady evidence.

Posted by: Greta | Aug 20, 2015 5:01:30 AM

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