A Utah woman’s exoneration of murder charges may be reversed leaving her with a criminal record that cannot be expunged.
The Utah Supreme Court will decide whether to uphold Debra Brown’s exoneration and expunge her record, or reverse the exoneration and reinstate Brown’s conviction. Utah exonerated Brown last year and released her from prison after Brown served 17 years for the charges.
Christopher Ballard, the assistant attorney general in Utah, says that Brown was wrongly exonerated based on old evidence last year, instead of on new evidence that is required by a 2008 statue.
Brown challenged her conviction using a new law allowing inmates to use “facts” of a case in substitution for new DNA evidence.
The attorney general’s office has been specific that they do not intend to return Ms. Brown to jail, but they do want to prevent the establishment of a flawed legal precedent. Debra Brown was the first person freed under the Utah exoneration law, which provides $570,000 to wrongfully convicted prisoners who have been exonerated of their crimes. A judge ruled in May 2011, based on evidence from her original trial in 1995, that she could not have committed the crime.
“It’s hard for me to wrap my head around and understand why are we going through this again,” said Debra Brown. “We’ve proved and proved and proved. How many times do we have to mash potatoes before they are mashed?”
The now 55-year-old Brown was convicted for the 1993 murder of friend and employer Lael Brown, who is no relation. Prosecutors argued that Mr. Brown was killed on the morning Nov. 6th, from three gunshot wounds to the head, at a time when Debra Brown had no alibi. However, testimony from Delwin Hall alleges that Mr. Brown was alive that afternoon, during a period in which Debra Brown had an alibi. No other testimony was provided to support an alibi for Debra.
Ballard told the justices there was “nothing that corroborates” Hall’s testimony. “There is a mountain of trial evidence…that Lael was missing in action on Saturday,” Ballard said.
Debra Brown, who was a handywoman for Lael Brown’s property, had keys to his home, and admitted to forging checks in his name. The admission was considered her motive for murder.
“She murdered him because he found out she was forging his checks and stealing, and he was going to report her,” Ballard said Tuesday.
Ms. Brown was looking forward to being completely exonerated of the murder charges. “It’s hard to live life with a murder conviction on your record,” she said.
If Debra Brown is completely exonerated she may be able to collect $570,000 in restitution for the wrongful conviction. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the attorney general, Debra Brown’s conviction may be reinstated.
South Carolina does not currently allow for exoneration of crimes, but there are laws allowing for expungements and pardons. The attorneys at Strom Law, LLC, can work with you on expunging your record, so contact us today. 803.252.4800.