PD Faces Ethics Complaint for Telling of Dead Client’s Confession
Posted Nov 26, 2007 7:17 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
The appellate defender for North Carolina is facing an ethics complaint for testifying that his dead client had confessed he alone committed a double murder for which another man is doing time.
Staples Hughes testified in a January hearing for the convicted man that his client confessed 20 years ago the he was solely responsible for the slayings of Roland and Lisa Matthews, the Charlotte News & Observer reports. Hughes came forward after the 2002 prison suicide of his client, Jerry Cashwell, a co-defendant in the case.
"It's not that I'm not apprehensive about the possible consequences, because I am," Hughes told the newspaper. "But when you think about that up against the fact that this guy is innocent and has been locked up, it puts a different light on that."
Hughes made the decision to testify after a 2003 decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court that held a judge could force a lawyer to testify about a dead client’s confidential statements in an arsenic poisoning case. During Hughes’ testimony on behalf of Lee Wayne Hunt, the judge warned that he would file a bar complaint against him for revealing client confidences.
The judge refused to reopen the case, and Hunt remains in prison. His appeal is pending before the state supreme court.
Part of the evidence against Hunt was FBI bullet lead analysis, a now-discredited forensic tool abandoned by the bureau two years ago. The remaining evidence was testimony by Cashwell and another co-defendant, who received reduced sentences for their cooperation. A fourth co-defendant pleaded guilty to lesser charges and received a three-year sentence, the Fayetteville Observer reports.
A hat tip to How Appealing, which posted the story.
Updated 1:06 p.m. CST