Copied article originally posted here Mar 30, 2016
“If the Martin case is not one which is appropriate for dismissal, there may never be one.”
That’s not a quote from a defense brief or a member of the defense team’s mouth. It is a direct quote from Judge Robert H. Smith’s March 11, 2016 order dismissing George Martin’s capital murder indictment with prejudice. “Had this case been tried fairly,” he adds, “all would have had resolution of this matter long ago.” Indeed, though the State is appealing the judge’s decision, the trial court’s order reveals the disturbing truth that the Alabama Attorney General’s office has engaged in intentional misconduct in the Martin case for more than a decade.
Though we have previously covered the case, we add some additional details here in light of these latest developments. George Martin, a former State trooper in Alabama, was charged with killing his wife, Hammoleketh Martin, for pecuniary gain. She died in a fire inside her car in 1995. Because the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute the case, the Attorney General’s office took over. The State alleged that Martin intentionally set his wife’s car on fire while she was inside, killing her to collect life insurance payments. At trial, Martin’s defense was that the death was an accident caused by a mishap with the gas can the victim kept in the car.
The State prevailed at trial and won a conviction in 2000. The jury initially returned an 8-4 recommendation for a life sentence, but the trial court judge (then-Judge Ferrill McRae) overrode that recommendation and sentenced Martin to death. (This death sentence was soon lifted by the Alabama Supreme Court with instructions for additional consideration of the jury’s sentencing recommendation; after that additional consideration, Judge McRae again imposed a death sentence despite the jurors’ earlier vote in favor of mercy.) The Alabama judiciary denied Mr. Martin’s direct appeals.
In post-conviction proceedings in 2008, Martin’s defense team requested access to the prosecution’s files because it believed the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence. Those motions sparked an epic legal battle that lasted several years in which the Attorney General’s office fought tooth-and-nail to keep its files from the opposition. On three separate occasions, the prosecutors launched mandamus petitions in an effort to shut down the trial court’s orders to turn over the information the defense had requested. The first effort succeeded, temporarily. But, the trial court then made the “good cause” finding the appellate court requested in order to compel disclosure. The State’s second effort to stave off discovery also succeeded temporarily, but in 2010 the trial court again granted the defense’s discovery motion. The State filed another mandamus petition to avoid fulfilling the order; finally the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court denied the State’s petition.
So, what happened when the State at long last turned over its file? What had it been sitting on for so many years? Why was the Attorney General’s office so profoundly reluctant to give Martin an opportunity to look at the documents compiled during its investigation? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the discovery contained a treasure trove of exculpatory evidence that would have facilitated Mr. Martin’s defense at trial.