The official blog of Opus 30 Justice, dedicated to the exoneration of
individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.
Wednesday, January 9, 2019
Stating Our Case to Judge Engelmayer (January 9, 2019)
Arguments in the form of ten-page letters were officially submitted to Federal Judge Paul A. Engelmayer on January 4, as directed by the judge following Shane’s hearing on December 19.
At the hearing on December 19, 2018 the judge heard testimony from Christine Holloway, the prime “witness” against Shane at his 1993 trial. Miss Holloway recanted her testimony in 2011, revealing that she was coerced and pressured by Detective Sevile Jones in order to identify Shane Watson as “the shooter”. In court on December 19, 2018, Holloway was questioned by Glenn Garber on behalf of the defense team. Mr. Garber is the Director of The Exoneration Initiative in New York City. Holloway was cross-examined by prosecutors from the District Attorney’s office as well. Judge Engelmayer himself interrupted questioning by the prosecutors and asked questions of Miss Holloway directly several times during the course of the hearing. Upon the hearing’s conclusion, the judge ordered letters from both sides, defense and prosecution, laying out their respective arguments as to the credibility and validity of Holloway’s testimony at the hearing. Judge Engelmayer will rule accordingly. The question before the judge is whether or not to overturn the state court’s denial of our 2014 motion to vacate Shane’s conviction. Essentially, a ruling by Judge Engelmayer in Shane’s favor would open the door to his full exoneration.
Excerpts from Glenn Garber’s letter to Judge Engelmayer:
January 4, 2019
Honorable Paul A. Engelmayer U.S. District Court Judge Southern District ofNew York United States Courthouse
40 Foley Square New York, NY I0007
Dear Judge Engelmayer:
"Given the stated firmness of Ms. Holloway's recantation, the importance of her testimony to petitioner's present claims, and the gravity of the punishment imposed on petitioner," this Court sought to hear from Christine Holloway, the sole eyewitness against Petitioner Shane Watson at his State murder trial, as the last line of protection against a potential manifest injustice. (Dkt Entry 58). Although Holloway is an imperfect witness mired in a complicated history, we submit that, following her testimony before thisCourt at the December 19th hearing, the record clearly and convincingly establishes that her recantation is credible and that she pe1jured herself at trial. Consequently, Watson should be permitted to pass through the Schlup gateway and have his claims considered on the merits.
The firmness of Holloway's recantation is undeniable. Despite vacillating over the years (or being "flippy floppy," to use her words), Holloway is steadfast that she did not get a sufficient look at the perpetrator's face to make an identification, that she was influenced by the police to identify Watson, and that she lied at trial about her identification.
To be sure, evaluating Holloway's credibility is not merelyan exercise in tallying her inconsistent statements or looking for holes in her narrative. A characteristic of most (if not all) recanting witnesses is their inconsistency, and by their nature they are difficult, less than ideal, witnesses. Rather, to get to the truth ofa recantation it is necessary to observe the witness in person, as this Court did, and assess their differing accounts in the context in which they were made. Doing that here - and especially considering Holloway's responses to this Court's nonleading, neutral questions - there can be no doubt that despite her shortfalls,Holloway was telling the truth.
Far from the "elusive and combative" witness described by the State court, Holloway was thoughtful, contrite, and often tearful. She genuinely tried, however painful it was, to answer questions about her motivations and to untangle the confusion she created, especially when queried by the Court. She was also unshakable under rigorous cross examination about the core truths that lie at the heart of her recantation.
Having been promised nothing, not having been intimidated or coerced by the defense, having no relationship to Watson or his family, and facing down her fear of a pe1jury prosecution, the only reasonable explanation for Holloway's hearing testimony affirming her recantation - when disavowing the recantation is the far easier course - is that she is telling the truth.
The State court found Holloway's recantation incredible based on her demeanor, purp01ted influence by the defense, and inconsistencies in her account.(Report & Recommendation at 30, 31)(Dkt. Entry 53). But at the hearing before this Court, she came across as honest, even earnest, in her sometimes-jumbled effort to effectively explain herself and set the record straight. Not only did Holloway settle any concerns about defense influence, she placed into context her prior inconsistencies stemming from the 2013 interview. Indeed, it was primarily questioning by thisCourt and Holloway's unflappable adherence to her recantation on cross-examination without significant impeachment which established the credibility of the recantation. The State court's factual determination that Holloway's recantation was not credible has therefore been rebutted by clear and convincing evidence.
Because Holloway was the only eyewitness to identify Watson at trial and was the key to his conviction, her recantation constitutes new evidence that makes it "more likely than not that no reasonable juror would convict." Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 324, 327-28 (1995); House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518,538 (2006); McQuiggin v. Perkins, 569 U.S. 383 (2013); Rivas v. Fischer, 687 F.3d 514, 543 (2d Cir. 2012) ("it may be enough for the petitioner to introduce credible new evidence that thoroughly undermines the evidence supporting the jury's verdict"). He should therefore be permitted to pass through the gateway, enabling this Court to consider his federal habeas claims on the merits.
Thank you for your consideration. Respectfully submitted,
Glenn A. Garber THE EXONERATION INITIATIVE
233 Broadway, Suite 2370New York, NY 10279
Robert J. Boyle277 Broadway, Suite 1501 New York, NY 10007
We now await the judge’s ruling. For the defense team and those of us who have supported Shane this wait will seem lengthy, but then again Shane has waited twenty-five years in prison for what is hopefully the right result.