Friday, October 22, 2010

Dallas district attorney's office says man was wrongly convicted in '90 case

The Dallas County district attorney's office says it will ask a judge on Monday to release a 39-year-old deaf man who prosecutors believe was wrongly convicted of sexually assaulting a child.

Stephen Matthew Brodie pleaded guilty in 1993 to abducting a 5-year-old girl from her Richardson home and making her perform a sex act in September 1990.

His attorney, Dallas County public defender Michelle Moore, said that Brodie was interrogated for 18 hours over eight days and only half of the time was there a sign language interpreter present.

"We believe this is not a true confession," Moore said. "Stephen speaks an entirely differently language."

Moore said Thursday that evidence now points to Brodie's innocence. She said the district attorney's office told her a fingerprint found at the scene matches that of 41-year-old Robert Warterfield, a convicted child rapist who in the mid-1990s was also named as a suspect in the "North Dallas rapist" attacks on nearly a dozen other children.

Warterfield could not be reached for comment. He pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a child in 1994 for abducting a teenage girl from her home and molesting her. He was given 10 years' probation in that case and never charged in the other attacks.

Moore said Brodie falsely confessed to the abduction and sexual assault in exchange for a five-year sentence. She said his original defense attorney wasn't told about the fingerprint match before Brodie accepted the plea.

Brodie has already served the five-year sentence. But he is currently serving time for failing to register as a sex offender in Lamar County. It is his third conviction, Moore said, for "stubbornly refusing to register for a crime he didn't commit."

Moore says Brodie's confession was made at time when he was being questioned about other cases, too, and when there was no sign language interpreter present.

She said tests performed before the original trial showed that a hair from a blanket the girl was forced to take with her when abducted did not belong to Brodie or anyone in the girl's family – and Brodie's defense attorney at the time was never told that, either.

If State District Judge Lena Levario and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agree that Brodie was wrongly convicted, he could become the third man exonerated in Dallas County without the benefit of DNA testing to clear his name. The county also has 20 DNA exonerations – more than any other county in the nation since 2001 when Texas began allowing post-conviction DNA testing.

It is unclear whether prosecutors knew about the information withheld from Brodie's attorney, or whether police failed to turn over the information to the district attorney's office. Information that could benefit a defendant is legally required to be handed over following a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brady vs. Maryland.

Mike Ware, who oversees the conviction integrity unit at the district attorney's office, declined to discuss the investigation in detail. But he said there was "no reason" for Brodie to become a suspect in the first place.

"I anticipate part of the proof will be that the person we believe to be the actual perpetrator has been identified," Ware said.

Richardson police Sgt. Kevin Perlich, spokesman for the department that arrested Brodie, declined to comment other than to say that the department has been working with the district attorney's office.

Moore said there was a previous hearing on the case in the mid-'90s after Brodie's attorneys learned about the fingerprint. But Moore said that then Levario ruled that because Brodie confessed, the confession outweighed the other information.

According to a Dallas Morning News story at the time, Levario ruled that Brodie knew about the existence of the then-unidentified fingerprint before he pleaded guilty and he knew that prosecutors had shared their information about his false statements with his defense attorney.

Moore said Thursday that the fingerprint match was made before the guilty plea, but added that Brodie and his attorneys only knew that a fingerprint other than Brodie's own existed.

Levario said at the time that other evidence linked Brodie to the crime, including statements from the victim that indicated her attacker had an unusual voice and a drawing that resembled a giraffe on his arm. Brodie's attorney at the time conceded that he drew animals on his arms.

Levario could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

Moore said that since the first ruling, more weight has been given to the possibility of false confessions. She said that since 2001, police manuals have routinely included information warning them about suspects falsely admitting to a crime.

Moore became Brodie's attorney in February after the district attorney's office received a letter from Brodie's father asking prosecutors to look again at the case.

For Brodie to be released, Lamar County would have to agree. That seems likely, Moore said.

Lamar County and District Attorney Gary Young could not be reached for comment Thursday.

After the sexual assault, the girl immediately told her parents about the molestation, and they called 911. Moore said the girl did not get a good look at the man but said "he had a low voice, he was fat, had a big stomach and he was white."

Brodie became a suspect when he was arrested for breaking into a soft drink machine at a public swimming pool in Richardson not far from where the child was abducted.

If Brodie is released Monday, Moore said, he will have the support of his father and friends. She also said the county's other exonerees will help him adjust.

"The guys are very eager to meet him, and he's got some friends," she said.

Moore said that Brodie, who could shoe horses for a living, is eager to get a job.

"I think he's a little bit scared," she said. "But very anxious to get out."