Wednesday, December 14, 2005

With nothing else catching my eye, I'm staying with the case of Cory Maye, the cause celebre of the blogosphere, who was sentenced to death for killing a police officer during a drug raid...

Radley Balko has been designated Ground Zero on the subject, and he has a roundup that warrants comment. According to Balko, the following are some of what he refers to as "Facts Not in Dispute", but that which he feels must be important (otherwise, why mention them?). My comments will be italics.

# A local narcotics task force conducted a drug raid on the Prentiss, Mississippi duplex apartments of Jamie Smith and Cory Maye on December 26, 2001.

# Smith was arrested without incident. Significant quantities of marijuana were found in his home. Both Maye's current and former attorneys say Smith was never charged for drug possession or distribution. District Attorney McDonald says he doesn't remember Smith being charged or convicted. Maye was never charged with a drug crime. So the only criminal charge of any kind to come out of this raid was the murder charge against Maye. So what, so what and so what? Whether Smith was charged is irrelevant to what Maye did and whether Maye should have been charged with a crime for killing a police officer. And there's no requirement that the prosecutor charge Maye with something in addition to capital murder.

# Police executed the warrant on Maye's home sometime after 11pm. They first attempted to enter through his front door, then went around to the back. Maye was in his bedroom with his 18-month old daughter when the door was forced open by a cop other than Officer Jones. Officer Ron Jones was the first one to enter Maye's apartment. Maye fired three times. One bullet struck Jones, and killed him.

# Jones was not a regular member of the narcotics task force. He was a K9 officer for the Prentiss police department. Again, irrelevant, unless the defense is trying to claim that Jones, because of his unfamiliarity with the narcotics team, somehow did something wrong that led to his death. As far as I know, that allegation has not been raised.

# At the time of his death, Jones was the son of the Prentiss, Mississippi police chief. Chief Jones is now retired. Again, so what? This may have created a bit more incentive to charge Maye, but the fact is that ANYTIME a police officer is killed, there is enormous pressure to file charges against the person responsible.

# Maye is black. Jones was white. This may have influenced some, but with two blacks on the jury, it should not have been sufficient by itself for either a conviction or the death sentence that was imposed.

# Jones was armed when he entered Maye's apartment, but his gun was holstered. If anything, this hurts the defense, as it removes Maye's ability to claim he was shooting at someone who was pointing a gun at him.

# Maye fired three times in rapid succession. After the third shot, the remaining members of the task force shouted "police!" and entered the apartment. At this point, Maye dropped his gun, put up his hands, and surrendered. A possible show of confusion on Maye's part, or perhaps the realization that if he didn't drop the gun, he was a dead man.

# Maye had no criminal history, no history of violence, and no prior drug arrests -- not even misdemeanors. Perhaps a reason to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but obviously the jury decided, as they have the right to do so, to not do that.

# The search warrants and affidavits list Jamie Wilson by name, and refer to him as a "known drug dealer." There was also a warrant for a search of Maye's home, but it didn't list Maye by name. None of the affidavits or warrants mention Maye by name. Irrelevant. It is Maye's actions that are being judged.

# The only direct evidence in favor of a search warrant against Maye seems to be a confidential informant's tip to the investigating officer that a "large amount" of marijuana was being stored in Maye's apartment 24 hours before the raid. The officer also says he saw considerable traffic coming to and from the duplex at unusual hours. See above.

# Immediately after the raid, police first said they found no drugs in Maye's apartment. Days later, they say they found a small bag of "allegedly marijuana," and three pieces of a burnt cigar, also containing "allegedly marijuana."

# Officer Ron Jones, the one who was killed, was also the sole officer who conducted the investigation that led to the raids. Well, this provides a reason why Jones was on the raid... but again, it is Maye's actions that are being judged and the question of how many police officers it takes to conduct an investigation is irrelevant.

# Because of this, we'll never know the details of his investigation. Nor will we learn the identity of his confidential informant. Jones apparently kept no records of his investigation into Maye or Smith. According to DA Buddy McDonald, all record of the investigation "died with Officer Jones." So what?

# Nevertheless, judging by the information included in the warrant affidavits, it appears Jones made no effort to identify Maye, to make a controlled drug buy from Maye to corroborate the informant's story, or to do a criminal background check on Maye. In fact, there's no evidence that Jones knew the identify of the person occupying Maye's apartment. So what?

# The gun Maye used to shoot Jones was stolen, though by all indications, it wasn't stolen by Maye. Maye says he got the gun from a friend. Documents show that the gun was stolen in Natchez, 100 miles from Prentiss, at least a year prior to the raid on Maye's home. The trial judge deemed the fact that the gun was stolen to be prejudicial, and withheld it from the jury. As a result, this sure didn't hurt the defense,

And, according to Balko, these are "Facts in Dispute" (and also somehow important) Again, my comments in italic:

# Whether or not the narcotics task force sufficiently announced themselves and gave Maye time to peacefully answer the door before forcing entry. Not having read the transcript (why bother, when others in the blogosphere will do so and announce their findings?), I presume defense counsel would have made an issue of this and that the jury didn't buy his argument.

# Where the drugs in Maye's apartment came from. Interesting to know, but irrelevant to the question of what Maye did.

# Why the times listed on the evidence sheets for both Maye and Smith's apartments were repeatedly scribbled out. Why Maye's sheet lists no exact time the evidence was collected. Why the evidence in Smith's apartment was collected on the 26th, immediately after the raid, while the evidence in Maye's was apparently collected at 5:20am the next day (though again, that time was the last of three times entered, the first two being scribbled out to the point of being illegible). Perhaps because Maye's apartment was the site of a murder investigation and that took priority over looking for drugs... but, as I keep repeating, it seems irrelevant to Maye's actions that night. Or, put another way, why would it have mattered had the police been faster to conduct a search of Maye's apartment for drugs? Maybe the existence of drugs was introduced at trial in an attempt to make Maye look bad, but since no drug charges were filed, wouldn't the judge have blocked testimony about drugs as being prejudicial?

# The legitimacy of the warrant for Maye's residence. It appears to have been issued solely on the word of a confidential informant, who says he spotted marijuana in the apartment. If the warrant was illegitimate, police should never have broken down Maye's door. If it was legitimate, they'd still have to have clearly announced themselves, and given Maye time to answer the door, for him to be guilty of capital murder. Again, I keep coming back to the fact that it was Maye's actions that night that are in question, not whether the police made a mistake.

# According to Maye's first attorney, two jurors told her after trial that Maye was convicted because (1) jurors resented Maye's attorney for suggesting in her closing argument that God would remember whether or not they'd shown Maye mercy when it came time for their judgment day, and (2) the didn't like Maye's upbringing -- they found him to be spoiled and disrespectful. As to the first, it looks like the defense counsel made a play that failed to win any sympathy. For better or worse, defendents live and die by the tactical decisions their attorneys make. And unless this type of play is universally recognized as something only an incompetent attorney would do, since Maye would have been the beneficiary of the play had it worked, he gets to live with the consequences of it not working. As for the second, jurors make all kinds of value judgments and I haven't yet heard that the Supreme Court has outlawed this particular one...