Evidence of Abuse Frees Calif. Woman

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A California woman initially convicted of murdering her abusive husband was released yesterday after serving 16 years in prison, in the first of perhaps dozens of such cases that could be retried under a 2002 state law that attempts to redress past injustices.

Hudie Joyce Walker, now 65, said her husband had beaten her for years before she shot him in a struggle over a gun, according to the Los Angeles Times. Walker had testified her husband had been drinking heavily that night in 1990 and threatened to shoot her for calling police.

A jury convicted Walker of second-degree murder, and her initial appeals failed.

In 2002, California passed a law allowing courts to grant habeas corpus to defendants convicted of violent felonies if they could show that failure to present evidence of battering prejudiced their defense. It applied to cases like Walker’s that were tried before a 1996 California Supreme Court decision recognizing the importance of testimony on battered woman’s syndrome.

In the first decision interpreting the law, a California appeals court granted Walker a new trial. She then agreed to plead no contest to manslaughter in a plea deal.

Perhaps another 50 or 60 abused spouses could benefit from the same appellate decision, estimates Carrie Hempel, a law professor at the University of California. The Feb. 5, 2007 ruling (PDF) by the California Court of Appeal granted Walker’s habeas corpus petition. She was represented by Latham & Watkins.

Walker now plans to work as an activist on behalf of other battered women in abusive relationships. “I see these television talk shows where they ask abused women, ‘Why didn’t you leave?’ The hosts say, ‘I never would have put up with that.’ ” she recounts. “Well, ma’am, you have never walked in our shoes. I want those women to never feel ashamed.”

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