In an unusual move, a team of defense attorneys relied on an expert in legal ethics to help win the freedom of a man who spent 23 years in prison for a double murder he probably did not commit. The case spotlighted ethical problems not just in the prosecution of Lamonte McIntyre, but systemic misconduct on the part of police, prosecutors, and judges in Wyandotte County, Kansas.
The testimony came in a recent hearing seeking a new trial for McIntyre. Before McIntyre’s attorneys finished presenting their case, and perhaps to prevent embarrassing evidence from being heard, the District Attorney handling the case agreed that the court should grant the motion for a new trial. As soon as the court granted the motion, the District Attorney dismissed the charges, resulting in McIntyre’s freedom.
The two victims were smoking crack while parked on a side street in Kansas City. They were shot to death. Lamonte McIntyre was convicted of their 1994 murders on the strength of eyewitness testimony.
McIntyre was arrested after a witness, Ruby Mitchell, picked McIntyre’s photograph out of a photo array. Mitchell claimed she knew McIntyre because he dated her niece, but later admitted that she did not know McIntyre and was confusing him with a different Lamonte.
Detective Roger Golubski scoured the neighborhood in search of another witness. He was able to prompt Niko Quinn, a cousin of one of victims, to identify McIntyre. Quinn later tried to recant, but the prosecutor threatened to take her children if she did not testify against McIntyre.
According to McIntyre’s mother, Golubski had forced her to have sex with him and may have pursued the case against McIntyre because she refused to continue their relationship. An investigative report alleges that Golubski “was known in the community, and even among fellow officers, for sexual encounters with poor and vulnerable black women whom he used as informants.”
McIntyre’s relatives testified that he was with them, a mile away from the shootings, when the murders occurred. Family members of the two victims were convinced that the wrong man had been arrested, but the police focused their efforts on proving McIntyre’s guilt rather than investigating other possibilities. No physical evidence connected McIntyre to the crime, and the police developed no evidence that McIntyre knew the victims or had any motive to kill them.
At McIntyre’s recent hearing, defense attorneys presented evidence that a teenager known as “Monster” had been paid to kill one of the victims in retaliation for a theft of drugs. Unfortunately, both McIntyre’s trial lawyer and his initial post-conviction lawyer made little effort to find evidence of McIntyre’s innocence. Both were later disbarred for failing to provide their clients with diligent representation.
Ethics Expert Testifies for McIntyre
Lawrence J. Fox, a professor at Yale Law School, testified as an expert in ethics. His testimony focused on the unethical behavior of District Judge Dexter Burdette, who presided over McIntyre’s trial, and former Assistant District Attorney Terra Morehead, with whom Judge Burdette previously had a romantic relationship. Neither Morehead nor Burdette disclosed their relationship to the defense.
Fox testified that that a judge’s past sexual involvement with a lawyer handling a case before the judge constituted “serious, serious misconduct.”
“Nothing could taint a trial more than that kind of relationship,” Fox testified.
The testimony of a law professor about what is essentially a legal question is unusual. The judge hearing the case is usually considered to be an expert in the law who needs no guidance from another legal expert. The entire case, however, was unusual.
Other ethical lapses included the police and prosecutor who threatened witnesses if they failed to give the testimony that the prosecution wanted, and the prosecutor’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense. However, it was the failure to disclose the relationship between the judge and the prosecutor that Fox emphasized. As he stated in his expert report,
“the concealed relationship obliterated any semblance of judicial impartiality in Mr. McIntyre’s trial and infected every aspect of these proceedings with implicit bias. As a result, Mr. McIntyre was denied his constitutional right to a fair trial.”
Tricia J. Bushnell, Director of the Midwest Innocence Project, said that Fox’s testimony and report “played a critical role in Mr. McIntyre’s case.”
The county’s current District Attorney, Mark Dupree, took office this year. Just before the judge who was accused of misconduct was about to testify, Dupree told the court that he agreed McIntyre should receive a new trial.
While Dupree had opposed the defense motion until that point, he told the media that he was convinced that a new trial was necessary after hearing the witnesses testify in person (perhaps because he was unable to damage their credibility during cross-examination). The timing of Dupree’s decision suggests that he did not want the judge to testify in a way that would have further damaged the integrity of the criminal justice process in Wyandotte County.
While refusing to say that McIntyre is innocent, Dupree conceded that the evidence is insufficient to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Dupree therefore dismissed the murder charges, setting McIntyre free. A victim of corruption at every level of the criminal justice system in Wyandotte County, McIntyre may have a strong claim to receive compensation for his unjust imprisonment — a claim that expert testimony will no doubt support.