An attorney for former Texas death row inmate Alfred Dewayne Brown is asking state Comptroller Glenn Hegar to reconsider denying his client almost $2 million in compensation from a state fund that compensates the wrongly imprisoned. Otherwise, he said, the next appeal might be before the Texas Supreme Court.
Brown was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005 for killing a Houston police officer at a check-cashing business during a 2003 robbery. He claimed he was at his girlfriend's home when the officer and a store clerk were killed, and no physical evidence tied him to the crime. Brown was convicted on eyewitness testimony.
In 2014, Brown's conviction was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals, and he was released because telephone records that could have supported his alibi were not shared with the defense. A new trial was set, but after investigating the Harris County district attorney's office decided not to try him again.
"He got a new trial," said Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, according to KTRK-TV in Houston. "We re-interviewed all the witnesses. We looked at all the evidence, and we came up short. I don't know how else to say it. We can't prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt."
In April, Hegar denied Brown's request for compensation under the Tim Cole Act, which instructs the state to pay individuals who were wrongfully imprisoned under certain circumstances. The comptroller said Brown has not been declared "actually innocent" by a court or the prosecutor's office and without those magic words he is not entitled to a check.
Following up in a Houston Chronicle letter to the editor, Hegar said authorizing the payout would have required him to ignore the law.
"I'm an attorney myself, and I've personally read every word of the documents in this case," he wrote. "The legal provisions I took an oath to follow are clear. Mr. Brown and his representatives have not met the legal requirements for compensation."
Brown's attorney Neal Manne said last week that the comptroller at the least misunderstands the law and the Texas Supreme Court's interpretation of it.
"If your denial of Mr. Brown's application was politically motivated because of antipathy, as a political matter, toward people in his position who are wrongfully imprisoned, then there's really nothing I can do to change your mind," was the message Manne told The Texas Tribune he wants to relay to Hegar. "The law is irrelevant, if that's your motivation for denying his claim."
Manne argues that though his client was not declared "actually innocent," he has achieved the threshold to receive compensation. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Brown relief based on the state's constitutional violation at trial, the withholding of telephone records, which constitutes "actual innocence," the attorney argues in a letter sent to Hegar.
The Texas Supreme Court, Manne cites in the letter, has recognized two types of "actual innocence": "a 'bare' claim of innocence on newly discovered evidence" and "a claim of innocence that resulted from a constitutional violation at trial that probably resulted in the conviction of one who was actually innocent."
"The Texas Supreme Court has made clear that both types of actual innocence claims are compensable under the Tim Cole Act," Manne wrote.
A spokeswoman with the comptroller's office confirmed it received Manne's letter on Friday and that it has 45 days to respond. The Harris County district attorney's office would not comment on Brown's fight for the payout.
Cleared and free, Brown now lives in Louisiana and works in the construction industry. He said he doesn't pay much attention to the fight with the comptroller's office or what's said about his case. Hegar's position, though, is not surprising, he said.
"That is the state of Texas," Brown said. "They're going to always do that."