Alfred Dewayne Brown spent nearly a decade on Texas’ death row before his conviction was thrown out by the courts. But despite being freed in 2015, he didn’t qualify for the state payout given to those wrongfully convicted because he was never declared “actually innocent.”
On Friday, that changed. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg held a press conference announcing that an outside attorney she had assigned to investigate the case had found Brown innocent, paving the way for Brown to receive $80,000 for each year he was wrongfully in prison, plus smaller monthly payments over the course of his life. She filed an amended motion in the trial court. That motion is expected to be approved and clear Brown's last hurdle to get compensation.
The appointed attorney, John Raley, is well known for his years-long fight to free Texas’ Michael Morton from a 25-year-long wrongful sentence in his wife’s murder, a case that led to new legislation requiring prosecutors to share their complete investigations with defense attorneys.
“Now there is no evidence sufficient for a reasonable juror to find that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the legal definition of innocence, and Alfred Dewayne Brown is innocent,” Raley said at the press conference.
Brown was released from prison nearly four years ago after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out his conviction and death sentence in the 2003 murder of a Houston police officer, Charles Clark, during a botched robbery. Phone records found in the prosecution’s possession but not shared with the defense at trial supported Brown’s alibi that he was at his girlfriend’s house during the crime. But the court tossed the case because of the prosecution’s violation, not because of Brown’s innocence.
After the conviction was tossed, then-District Attorney Devon Anderson dismissed the case completely, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to retry Brown for capital murder. Two other men, including one on death row, had also been convicted in the officer’s murder.
But the Texas Comptroller, which handles payments for wrongful incarcerations, denied Brown’s request for payment after his case was dismissed. Texas statute says a person qualifies for compensation if he is pardoned; if an appellate court finds him legally innocent in post-conviction proceedings that look at constitutional issues; or if that appellate court tosses the conviction, the charges are dismissed and the prosecutor says in an affidavit she “believes that the defendant is actually innocent of the crime for which the person was sentenced.”
Until Friday, Brown was missing the last piece, the prosecution’s declaration of innocence. Ogg said at the conference that she accepted Raley’s recommendations that Brown is innocent. A spokesperson for the comptroller confirmed Ogg's court filing of his innocence was what Brown needed to qualify for compensation. Brown's lawyer, Neal Manne, said the filing and new case dismissal needed to be approved by the court, but they were expected to be approved with the prosecution and defense on the same side. Then, Brown will file a new petition with the comptroller for money.
"[Brown's] really happy," Manne told The Texas Tribune on Friday. "It's been a long, long road for him, and it feels really good that the district attorney is now on his side."
But not everyone believes in Brown’s innocence. Joe Gamaldi, the president of the Houston police officer’s union, told the Tribune in January that Brown couldn’t touch the high standard of actual innocence “with a 10-foot pole” and that he remains the main suspect. Saying he knew what was in Raley's pending report, Gamaldi said Ogg went through Raley to “give herself cover from the political fallout.”
At the conference, Ogg acknowledged the discontent from the police union and said before the findings were released that she knew there were those who would disagree with them.
"That happens every time a district attorney anywhere makes a decision of this magnitude about a person's life," she said.
Raley said at the conference that his team spent more than 1,000 hours investigating and compiling his nearly 200-page report on Brown's case. His report also recommended further investigation of Dan Rizzo, the trial prosecutor in Brown's case who failed to turn over the phone records that led to his ultimate release from prison.
The failure to turn over the phone records was said to be "inadvertent," but Ogg asked the state bar to investigate Rizzo last year after unearthing an email that showed he was told about the corroborating phone records before Brown's trial. The state bar ultimately found no cause to issue disciplinary sanctions against the attorney, the Houston Chronicle reported.
"It is impossible to examine the conviction of Alfred Dewayne Brown without confronting prosecutorial misconduct," Raley said in his report.