George Martin, a former Alabama State Trooper who spent 15 years on death row for the capital murder of his wife before he was exonerated last year, has filed a federal civil suit against the state, the city of Mobile, Mobile County and a handful of law enforcement officers he claims are responsible for his wrongful conviction.
In the 59-page complaint dated April 6 — just over a year after his exoneration — Martin argues his conviction was the result of “multiple instances of intentional and willful misconduct” by the defendants, who include former investigators with the Mobile Police Department and prosecutors in the state’s Attorney General’s office.
Martin was convicted by the AG’s office in 2000, five years after the body of his wife, Hammoleketh, was found in a burned-out car in west Mobile. While the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, the AG’s office — namely assistant attorneys general Donald Valeska, William Dill and Gerrilyn Grant — picked up the case originally investigated by the Mobile Police Department and persuaded a jury to find him guilty of capital murder.
After exhausting his direct appeals, Martin and a team of pro-bono attorneys fought a nearly decade-long battle to introduce new evidence to the case in a process known as a Rule 32 appeal. When Circuit Court Judge Robert Smith ultimately dismissed the case during a retrial last year, he noted it was “riddled with impropriety and missteps brought about during the prosecution,” and said “substantial prejudice has been demonstrated and is such that the simple use of prior transcribed testimony would not accommodate the confrontation required by the Constitution …”
Smith determined Martin’s prosecutors deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence, including an eyewitness statement placing someone other than Martin near the scene, as well as the fact Hammoleketh was known to carry a can of gasoline in the trunk of her car.
“The affirmative use by the prosecutors of partial truths and untruths with knowledge satisfy the prosecution’s willful misconduct in this case,” Smith concluded.
The state of Alabama has no legislative mechanism for compensating individuals wrongfully convicted of crimes. Earlier this week, defense attorney John Sharer wouldn’t specify what damages Martin was seeking, noting he prefers not to litigate his cases in the press.
“[The complaint] contains everything we are claiming,” Sharer said. “The Rule 32 procedure went on for approximately 10 years and there was a great deal of discovery. There were affidavits and depositions and we had one extremely long evidentiary hearing with witnesses and documents. After the new trial was granted and affirmed, we had a further evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss. I suspect a lot of that material is a matter of public record.”
Sharer said Martin is currently living with relatives and searching for job, although he’s been unsuccessful.
“Of course it’s difficult after being cooped up on death row for 15 years,” he said. “I’m sure I can’t anticipate what it would be like; I think you’d have to have been through it to know.”
Individuals named as defendants in the complaint include:
• Thomas Calhoun, who led the investigation as a commander in the MPD. According to the complaint, Calhoun “was given the sole responsibility over deciding what to produce and what not to produce to [the] plaintiff’s criminal trial counsel … and the open-file discovery order issued by the trial judge in [the] plaintiff’s criminal case.”
It goes on to allege Calhoun “intentionally withheld the multiple pieces of material, exculpatory evidence that later formed the basis of the New Trial Order and the Dismissal Order (‘Brady Material’) and, in at least one case, edited a document to remove the material, exculpatory evidence contained therein and then produced only the edited version to [the] plaintiff’s criminal trial counsel.”
• Wilbur Wiliams, who was MPD’s chief of detectives. According to the complaint, Williams knew about the remains of a gas can found in the trunk of Hammoleketh’s car but decided to keep the information confidential. Allegedly, he also provided statements in an evidentiary hearing contradictory to those he made prior.
• Donald Pears, the lead MPD investigator. The complaint states Pears also omitted evidence of the gas can from his reports, but also accuses him of contaminating evidence and failing to collect exculpatory evidence and making contradictory statements on the record.
• Charles Bailey, a former MPD officer who collected physical evidence in the case. Bailey is accused of failing to collect exculpatory evidence and making contradictory statements on the record.
• Mark Neno, a former MPD officer who helped build the evidentiary case against Martin, is accused of colluding with Calhoun to suppress exculpatory evidence and fabricate incriminating evidence, primarily the testimony of a “jailhouse snitch” who claimed Martin confessed to him behind bars.
• Donald Valeska, former Alabama assistant attorney general and lead prosecutor. In the complaint, Valeska is accused of manufacturing witness statements and withholding exculpatory evidence, while it also suggests he has a documented history of malicious courtroom tactics in other cases.
• William Dill, an assistant prosecutor, is accused of colluding with Valeska to withhold the findings of an exculpatory FBI report. It also claims, along with Valeska, Dill has an “extensive history of prosecutorial misconduct.”
• Gerrilyn Grant, a third prosecutor, is also accused of falsifying witness statements in regard to the “jailhouse snitch.”
Defendants were unable to be reached for comment prior to press time. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Ginny Grenade.