ACLU and Texas Innocence Network Appeal Innocent Man's Death Sentence Based On Unfair Trial

October 24, 2007 12:00 am


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AUSTIN, TX — 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 four 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 death.

“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 released and has never faced charges for the crime.

“Max Soffar has been on Texas’s death row for almost three 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:
www.aclu.org/capital/innocence/29715res20070430.html

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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