The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Wednesday threw out the conviction of a man sent to death row for the abduction, robbery and fatal shooting of a Dallas man more than 11 years ago.
The state's highest criminal court agreed with a Dallas judge who found that prosecutors had improperly withheld evidence that could have vindicated 32-year-old Roderick Newton at a trial in 2000.
Newton was condemned for the March 1999 death of Jesus Montoya, 20, of Dallas. Montoya was abducted from a car wash, forced to make an ATM withdrawal and robbed of his jewelry. He was then shot and his body dumped in a vacant lot in Mesquite, immediately east of Dallas.
Newton had been scheduled to die in July 2009 but the Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his execution after Dallas County authorities discovered a police questionnaire that had been filled out by a key prosecution witness but that had never been given to Newton's trial attorneys.
Newton's appeals lawyers argued that the questionnaire -- the first of three statements made to Mesquite detectives by a co-defendant who testified against Newton -- was improperly withheld and could have been used to discredit the co-defendant's testimony.
In the questionnaire, Julian Paul Williams told police he knew nothing of the slaying and wasn't involved. He changed his story in subsequent statements.
Williams' fingerprints were found in Montoya's truck. He served a 10-year prison term and was released. Newton got a death sentence. Evidence showed that a day after the slaying, he pawned jewelry belonging to the murder victim.
After stopping Newton's scheduled execution, the appeals court last year returned the case to his Dallas County trial court for a hearing on the evidence issue. Prosecutors now must decide whether to try Newton again.
Newton, a native of Hartford, Conn., had more than two dozen misdemeanor and felony offenses on his record. He was a probation violator when he became wanted for Montoya's slaying.
About two weeks after Montoya's body was found, he was arrested hiding in a garbage bin after a police chase.
In a second death penalty case, the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to further examine the nearly 3-decade-old case of Arthur Lee Williams for killing a Houston police officer.
Williams was convicted of the fatal shooting of Daryl Wayne Shirley, 34, a Houston police detective, in April 1982. Shirley was gunned down as he tried to serve a warrant on Williams, who was wanted in Minnesota for parole violations.
The appeals court asked for briefs from prosecutors and lawyers for Williams regarding questions about whether his trial attorneys did a proper job. Williams' appeal also raised questions about the constitutionality of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and how it applies to questions jurors must consider when deliberating a death sentence.
Williams, 51, is among the longest-serving death row inmates in Texas. He was 22 when he was arrested two days after the shooting and has been on death row since May 1983.