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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Another possibly innocent man on TX death row

http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/local/15663297.htm

Monday, October 2, 2006

New evidence surfaces in bombing case

By MAX B. BAKER
Star-Telegram Staff Writer


Six years ago, Texas Death Row inmate Michael Toney made headlines when
he
tried to sell seats to his execution over the Internet.

But now Toney, convicted of blowing up three people in Lake Worth on
Thanksgiving Day in 1985, may create another stir as he tries to avoid
the
death chamber for one of North Texas’ most notorious crimes.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently ruled that new evidence —
including reports from the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and
Explosives discrediting the prosecution’s key witnesses — is sufficient
to
support Toney’s innocence claim and warrants another review by state
District Judge Everett Young.

The Tarrant County district attorney’s office says that some of the
claims
have been made in previous appeals. But a defense attorney representing
Toney says he is convinced that Toney is innocent.

“It’s one of the most egregious cases I’ve seen,” said Jared Tyler, an
attorney with the Texas Innocence Network. “For me, there is not a
shred of
evidence that he did it.”

Toney, 40, was sentenced to death in 1999 for the briefcase bombing
that
killed Angela Blount, 15; her father, Joe Blount, 44; and her cousin
Michael
Columbus, 18.

The case had gone unsolved for a decade until Toney, who was in jail
for
another offense, told another inmate that he was hired to put the
briefcase
bomb at the mobile home. Investigators later presented evidence showing
that
Toney — who they said was to be paid $5,000 for the bombing — put it at
the
wrong trailer.

Toney always proclaimed his innocence and his efforts in 2000 to sell
seats
to his future execution to the highest bidder was part of a publicity
stunt
to attract attention to his case. The state forbade him to sell the
seats.

Nicknamed “Cowboy,” Toney is a prolific e-mail correspondent, writing
regularly not only to reporters but also to members of the jury that
convicted him. He also has a Web site on which he proclaims his
innocence.

“Lies got me sentenced to death for a crime I did not commit,” Toney
writes
on his Web site. “Since the charade of a Texas trial people have came
forward and told me who killed the Blounts and why they did it.”

Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Debra Windsor, who will
defend
her office in court, says the way the case is being presented by the
defense
attorneys involves more than questions about Toney’s innocence.

“It is actually an attack on this office,” she said.

A troubling case
Tyler and David Dow, attorneys for the Innocence Network at the
University
of Houston Law Center, accuse Tarrant County District Attorney Tim
Curry’s
office of offenses including withholding reports from the Texas
Department
of Public Safety and the ATF that attack the credibility of the state’s
key
witnesses, Chris Meeks and Michael Toney’s ex-wife, Kimberly Toney.

Released to the defense this year for the first time, the reports
suggest
that Meeks and Toney may have been manipulated and intimidated into
giving
statements fitting investigators’ preconceived notions of how and why
the
crime occurred.

Defense attorneys point out that by the time Michael Toney was indicted
in
1997, the crime was 12 years old. The Lake Worth incident was the
longest-running unsolved bombing investigation in the country, court
papers
state. Defense attorneys suggest that there was a renewed interest in
this
case by a federal agency trying to rebuild its image after the Oklahoma
City
bombing.

Prosecutors were led to Toney when he allegedly confessed to committing
the
crime to Charles Ferris, a fellow inmate in the Parker County Jail.
Already
serving time in prison on a burglary charge, Toney had been transferred
to
the Weatherford jail on an unresolved burglary charge. Toney reportedly
told
Ferris that he had put the explosive briefcase on the front porch of
the
mobile home.

After that, investigators began looking into Toney’s possible
involvement in
the case, which led them to Meeks and Kimberly Toney. Neither one had
ever
talked to authorities about Toney’s role in the bombing.

Kimberly Toney testified during the trial that she, Meeks and Michael
Toney
went out together the day of the bombing and that they drove to a
business
near the mobile home park where the Blounts lived. She said Michael
Toney,
who was then her boyfriend, got out of their pickup, grabbed a
briefcase and
disappeared behind the business. He came back later without the
briefcase.

Meek told basically the same story during the trial.

Defense attorneys contend that recently released reports from the DPS
and
the ATF show that investigators used what they call “cognitive
interviewing
techniques” to plant false memories into Meeks’ and Kimberly Toney’s
minds.
Those reports should have been released to Michael Toney’s attorneys at
the
time of the trial, to show that they had not always given the same
account
of the crime.

Both witnesses’ testimony was crucial to the state’s case against
Toney.

Kimberly Toney’s memories in particular were “unscrupulously recovered,
reshaped, and reformed, by aggressive investigators desperately trying
to
close” the case, court papers said.

The defense also contends that Kimberly Toney’s testimony is
questionable
because of recently uncovered evidence that she may have suffered
memory
loss from chemicals she was exposed to in 1991 during the Persian Gulf
War.

“At the time the investigation into the Blount bombing was reopened, it
was
the longest-running unsolved bombing investigation in the country. The
bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City had
just
occurred, and the ATF was determined to solve this crime, one way or
another,” court papers state.

Testimony recanted
A memorandum from Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Mike
Parrish
and two ATF reports that cast doubts on the testimony of Tucker Finis
Blankenship were also not provided to defense attorneys at the time of
the
trial. Blankenship met Toney while they were in jail together,
according to
court documents.

Blankenship said Toney said that another man was going to pay him
$5,000 for
making and delivering the bomb, but that he had put it by the wrong
mobile
home. Since then, Blankenship has recanted those statements, and court
papers indicate that Blankenship believed the cases against him would
be
dropped in return for his testimony.

Information was also uncovered that pointed to another man who had
built a
pipe bomb similar to one used in the Blount bombing and that the man’s
family told authorities that components used in the briefcase bomb were
missing from their home. The man had also told more than one other
person
that he was responsible for the three deaths, court papers state.

“The fact of the matter is that the Blount bombing remains unsolved to
this
day, even as Mr. Toney remains on death row,” court papers state.

But during the trial, Toney also admitted that he lied frequently.
During
the trial he acknowledged telling some people that his father is dead,
others that his mother is dead, and others that he had a master’s
degree in
chemistry.

He has also said since his conviction that he unwisely told Ferris that
he
could tell authorities he was involved in the Blount bombing if it
would
help him get out of jail by getting his charges reduced or dismissed.
Ferris
has since recanted that testimony, too.

Parrish has no doubts that he convicted the right person. The district
attorney’s office has until early next year to file its initial
response to
Toney’s request for a review of the evidence and possibly a new trial.

“All that’s been raised on state appeal,” Parrish said. “There must be
some
new, slightly different kitchen sink they are throwing in here.”
- - - - -
Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714
maxbaker@star-telegram.com

1 Comments:

Blogger Hopeydope2004 said...

I was wondering when this piece was written. I am Michael Toneys daughter & he will soon be free. He may have had 11 yrs. of his life wasted but he now has the rest of it to enjoy!!

9:08 PM  

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