Constitutional Law

Once on death row for murder committed when he was 1,000 miles away, Texas man is free after plea

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Construction laborer Manuel Velez was on the job in Tennessee, some 1,000 miles from his home in Brownsville, Texas, when his girlfriend’s 1-year-old son sustained fatal head injuries, according to medical evidence provided by an expert witness for the prosecution.

But Velez was nonetheless convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, because his defense lawyers didn’t effectively present his case, the American Civil Liberties Union says. In addition to the medical timeline, other evidence that pointed away from Velez included witnesses who said his girlfriend had a history of abusing her children.

With the help of appellate specialist Maurie Levin, the ACLU, the American Bar Association’s Capital Representation Project and law firms Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal and Lewis Roca Rothberger, the 2008 conviction was overturned. Velez, now 49, was released from prison Wednesday.

However, he has now been convicted of a lesser charge: Rather than go through another murder trial, after the state refused to dismiss the murder case, Velez pleaded no contest to injury to a child, the ACLU says. Although he was sentenced to 15 years on the child injury charge, he was eligible for parole almost immediately because he had already served nine years, Lewis Roca explained in a press release.

Related articles:

The Guardian: “Texas releases death row inmate Manuel Velez after wrongful conviction”

Texas Monthly (2013): “Reasonable Doubt: The Manuel Velez Case”

USA Today: “Laborer who spent time on death row in Texas goes free”

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