Wednesday, October 24, 2007

ACLU and Texas Innocence Network Appeal Innocent

At a hearing today before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the
American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Innocence Network (TIN)
argued that death row inmate Max Soffar was unfairly prevented from
proving his innocence at his second trial in 2006. The groups hope to
overturn Soffar's conviction in the capital murder case of 4 victims shot
during an armed robbery in a Houston bowling alley in 1980. In 1981,
Soffar was convicted and sentenced to death, but a federal court
overturned his conviction in 2004 because his trial lawyers failed to
argue that Soffar's confession contradicted the account of the sole
surviving witness and other reliable evidence in the case. The state of
Texas retried Soffar last year and he was again convicted and sentenced to

"This case is a textbook example of a miscarriage of justice," said John
Holdridge, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. "From a false
confession to two unfair trials and death sentences, the problems with Max
Soffar's case are gravely troubling. We must not allow the state of Texas
to execute an innocent man."

The ACLU and TIN argued that Soffar was denied the constitutional right to
defend himself because Soffar's trial judge refused to admit evidence that
another man confessed to committing the murders. This man, Paul Reid,
formerly of Houston, also committed a series of highly similar
robbery-murders and now awaits execution on Tennessee's death row. A
photograph of Reid, taken in Houston nine days after the bowling alley
incident, strongly resembles the police's composite sketch based on the
description of the crime's sole witness.

The ACLU and TIN also charged that Soffar was denied his constitutional
rights when, during his second trial, the court refused to allow him to
show that media reports of the crime contained all of the details in his
false confession. The prosecution claimed that these details-although
broadcast throughout Texas-could only be known by the person responsible
for the crime.

Soffar was known by the police in 1980 as an unreliable and feeble-minded
informant who often traded information for police assistance or money.

Shortly after the bowling alley crimes took place, Soffar fingered his
friend, Latt Bloomfied, as the perpetrator. Soffar also told police that
he and Bloomfield had burglarized the same bowling alley the night before
the incident - a crime the press reported as potentially related to the
robbery-murders. The police soon learned that Soffar's confession to the
burglary was false and arrested others for that crime; yet even after
Soffar's first false confession, law enforcement continued to rely on
another confession of his that implicated Soffar and Bloomfield in the
robbery-murders. After his initial arrest, Bloomfield was quickly
releasedand has never faced charges for the crime.

"Max Soffar has been on Texas's death row for almost 3 decades for a crime
he did not commit," said David Dow, Head of the Texas Innocence Network
and one of Soffar's attorneys. "We urge the court to do the right thing
and strike down Mr. Soffar's wrongful conviction. Too many innocent people
have been executed as a result of mistakes in the system. The risk of
executing an innocent man is unacceptable in a just society."

John Holdridge added, "False confessions are far more common than the
public realizes. According to the Innocence Project, innocent defendants
made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pleaded
guilty in more than 25% of DNA exoneration cases."

More information on Max Soffar's case is available at:

Lawyers on this case are Holdridge and Brian Stull of the ACLU Capital
Punishment Project and Dow and Jared Tyler of the Texas Innocence Network.

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