Manuel Velez – a free man
A building worker from Texas, who was sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, was released on Wednesday after spending nine years in prison, four of them on death row.
Manuel Velez, 49, emerged from Huntsville prison a free man at 11.32pm CT. He was arrested in 2005, and sentenced to death three years later, for killing a one-year-old who was partially in his care.
But over the years the conviction unravelled. Tests on the victim’s brain showed that Velez could not have caused the child’s head injuries. Further evidence revealed that the defendant, who is intellectually disabled, had suffered from woeful legal representation at trial, and that the prosecutor had acted improperly to sway the jury against him.
Golly – there’s a surprise.
Brian Stull, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who has represented Velez since 2009, said that “an innocent man went to death row because the entire system failed him. The defence counsel who are meant to defend him let him down, the prosecutor who is meant to secure justice committed misconduct, and even the judge made errors that were recognised on appeal…”
…When lawyers with the private firms Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, and Lewis, Roca, Rothgerber took up Velez’s case after he was put on death row, they were astonished by what they found. They discovered that expert opinion had been given in 2006 – fully two years before the trial – that destroyed the state’s case against him.
A neuropathologist had examined Angel’s body and recorded blood on the brain caused by a haematoma that was “well developed”. Crucially, the brain injury was at least two weeks old and was almost certainly inflicted between 18 and 36 days before Angel died.
The timing was critical, as Velez was not in contact with Angel until he moved into the Moreno home on 14 October, 17 days before the boy died. In fact, within the 18- and 36-day period specified by the neuropathologist, Angel was some 1,000 miles away in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was on a building job.
This key detail went unnoticed by Velez’s original defence lawyers who made nothing of it at trial, even though it had been prominently incorporated into the official autopsy report on Angel Moreno. The neuropathologist who made the finding was similarly never called as a witness…