Melvyn Bruder, Dallas Defense Lawyer Who Won Death Row Precedent Before U.S. Supreme Court, Dies at 75

Melvyn Carson Bruder knew at age 16 that he wanted to be a defense lawyer.Ticketed for driving without his glasses, he took his case to court. He told the judge the officer had failed to ask him if he was wearing contacts at the time.It was the first of many courtroom victories for Bruder, including two precedent-setting death-penalty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. His most famous client was Randall Dale Adams, who was exonerated in the 1976 murder of Dallas police Officer Robert Wood.Bruder, 75, died Dec. 18 of complications from a blood disorder at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.A memorial will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Unity of Dallas church, 6525 Forest Lane in Dallas.In June 1972, Bruder successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that the death penalty sentence of Elmer Branch was cruel and unusual punishment. Branch, a mentally retarded black man, had been sentenced to die for the 1967 rape of a 65-year-old white woman in Wilbarger County. The ruling brought a three-year hiatus to U.S. executions.About 600 death row inmates nationwide received life terms or new trials as a result of the high court ruling, said his wife, Gale Bruder of Dallas.Bruder argued that "a man can beat a woman to the brink of death" in Texas and get only 25 years in prison. He also noted that a black man sentenced to rape in Texas had an 86 percent chance of of getting the death penalty, while the probability for a white man was only 22 percent.Branch's sentence was commuted to life in prison.In 1979, Bruder returned to the high court to argue for overturning the capital murder conviction of Adams, whose case was the basis of the 1988 award-winning documentary The Thin Blue Line.Bruder recalled asking her future husband before his second Supreme Court appearance — they worked together before they married — what his notes said."He held a legal pad that said 'Wing it,'" she said. "I said, 'All right, lets go.'"Bruder persuaded the high court to overturn Adams' conviction over a jury selection issue. Texas Gov. Bill Clements commuted Adams' sentence to life. In 1989, Adams was released after Dallas County declined to prosecute him again.  Continue reading...

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