44 Former Prosecutors and DOJ Officials Ask Supreme Court to Review Louisiana Murder Conviction of 16-Year-Old Intellectually Disabled Child After Prosecutors Failed to Disclose Key Information

April 5, 2018

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Deputy Attorneys General David Ogden, James Cole, Jamie Gorelick, Gary Grindler, and Donald Ayer, and former Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler join amicus brief representing broad consensus view that prosecutors have special obligation to disclose potentially material exculpatory and impeaching information.

In a brief filed today, 44 former prosecutors and Department of Justice officials urge the Supreme Court to review and reverse a Louisiana case in which 16-year old Corey Williams—later deemed by a Louisiana court to be, in its words, “mentally retarded”—was convicted of murder after state prosecutors failed to reveal the existence of numerous contradicting witness statements. In doing so, Louisiana prosecutors failed to disclose information that could have been used to bolster Williams’s defense, including by impeaching the state’s witnesses and attacking the adequacy of the police investigation.

In the brief—authored by former federal prosecutor Mary McCord and former DOJ attorney Douglas Letter, currently professors and senior litigators at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) at Georgetown Law—former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, five former Deputy Attorneys General of both parties, and several dozen former federal and state prosecutors and Department of Justice officials are asking the Supreme Court to reaffirm the bedrock principle that with prosecutorial discretion comes prosecutorial responsibility to ensure that “justice shall be done.” This distinguished group—including David OgdenPeter KeislerJamie GorelickJames ColeGary GrindlerDonald AyerNeal KatyalSeth Waxman, and other former top government lawyers—argue that prosecutors have a responsibility under Brady v. Maryland to disclose to the defense potentially material exculpatory and impeaching information regardless of its admissibility as evidence.

Corey Williams was found guilty of murder in 2000 and sentenced to death after a trial at which prosecutors failed to provide to the defense recorded statements of several witnesses that had been taken on the night of the murder, later arguing that the statements would not have been admissible and would not have changed the outcome. Williams’s death sentence was later overturned after the Supreme Court decided, in Atkins v. Virginia, that execution of intellectually disabled persons is excessive under the Eighth Amendment.

The amicus brief emphasizes prosecutors’ special obligation to ensure, to the best of their ability, that the due process rights of criminal defendants are respected, criminal prosecutions are conducted fairly, and innocent individuals are not convicted while the guilty go free. Pointing to well-established Supreme Court case law and Department of Justice policy for federal prosecutors to “err on the side of disclosing exculpatory and impeaching evidence,” the brief asks the Court to vindicate the principle that prosecutors should take a broad view of their disclosure obligations that extends beyond just evidence admissible at trial.

“This brief represents the broad consensus view of former prosecutors and high-level DOJ officials who have been responsible for providing Brady disclosures or making policy related to such disclosures that with prosecutorial discretion comes prosecutorial responsibility to strive for a fair and just trial that protects not only defendants’ rights but also public safety,” said McCord. “That didn’t happen in this case, where the collective impact of the undisclosed information seriously undermines confidence in the verdict and the credibility of our system of criminal justice.”

After delivering pizza to a group of persons socializing at a friend’s house in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, Jarvis Griffin was shot and killed as he began to drive away, and his money bag was stolen. Although no physical evidence linked Corey Williams to the murder, others split the proceeds, the fingerprint of someone else was found on the empty clip of the murder weapon, and the victim’s blood was found on someone else’s clothes, those in the neighborhood quickly pinned the shooting on 16-year-old intellectually disabled Corey Williams. Although several witnesses gave recorded statements to police on the night of the murder, the recordings were not provided to defense counsel, and summaries that were provided failed to include the witnesses’ statements that someone other than Williams must have done the shooting, someone other than Williams had been seen with the murder weapon earlier in the day, or that police indicated that people in the neighborhood may have been setting Williams up. The withholding of this information was especially important because it could have formed the basis for effective cross-examination and impeachment of other witnesses, and in particular the sole witness who claimed to actually have seen Williams do the shooting—a person who shared in the proceeds, went by the nickname “Rapist,” and had been seen with the murder weapon earlier in the day. The undisclosed information also could have been used to challenge the adequacy of the police investigation and the investigators’ apparent acceptance of the identification of Williams as the shooter by “Rapist” without considering “Rapist’s” possible complicity.

The list of signatories includes former Attorney General Mike Mukasey; former Deputy Attorneys General James M. ColeGary GrindlerDavid OgdenJamie Gorelick, and Donald Ayer; former Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler; former Solicitor General Seth Waxman, former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal; former United States Attorneys Lourdes BairdMichaelCotterWilliam B. CummingsMichael H. DettmerTom DillardRonald C. MachenBarbara L. McQuadeWilliam NettlesWendy OlsonTerry L. PechotaChanningPhillipsThomas P. SullivanJoyce Vance, and William D. Wilmoth; former Assistant United States Attorneys Alexis CollinsJohn P. Flannery IIThomas HibargerMiriam Aroni KrinskyDavid LaufmanSteven H. LevinAlex LittleHeidi Rummel, and PeterWhite; former Attorney General of Ohio Jim Petro; former Acting Attorney General of Florida Bruce Jacob; and former District Attorneys, Assistant District Attorneys, or Deputy District Attorneys George EskinIra ReinerMeg Reiss, and Darryl Stallworth.

Other signatories to the brief include Roy L. Austin (former Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity, White House Domestic Policy Council), Chiraag Bains(former Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice), Shay Bilchick (former Associate Deputy Attorney General and Administrator, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice; former Chief Assistant State Attorney, 11th Judicial Circuit (Miami-Dade County), Florida), and Mary Patrice Brown(former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division and Counsel for the Office of Professional Responsibility, U.S. Department of Justice).

ICAP was formed at Georgetown Law in 2017 by leading former government national security and law enforcement lawyers and has previously advocated for criminal justice reform. In September 2017, ICAP, on behalf of the Fair Punishment Project, authored an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to consider a constitutional challenge to capital punishment. In February 2018, ICAP was part of a team filing an expanded lawsuit in Oklahoma against a statewide scheme to extort, arrest, and jail poor people subjected to exorbitant fees resulting from traffic, misdemeanor, and felony offenses.

Read the full brief here.