Similarities in Musgrove and Hinton cases cause hope for appeal

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Another local death row inmate hopes to have his conviction reversed by a federal court. In an exclusive interview WIAT sat down to hear how Donnis Musgrove’s case has connections to Anthony Ray Hinton’s.

Donnis Musgrove was also convicted for a Jefferson County murder. According to his attorney, Musgrove, like Hinton, claims he is innocent. Both men had the same judge, prosecutor, and ballistics expert. Unlike Hinton, Musgrove is still on death row.

Sixty-six year old Donnis Musgrove is sitting on death row in Donaldson Correctional Facility with failing health, according to his attorney. The federal court system is his last opportunity to avoid dying in prison, one way or another.

Musgrove and a co-defendant were tried together and convicted of the 1986 murder of Coy Barron. It happened during a burglary & shooting in Jefferson County. The two were arrested driving a stolen car later that year. Musgrove and the other man were picked out of a police line-up, by the victim’s wife, but there are questions about the accuracy of that identification, according to Musgrove’s new attorney Cissy Jackson.

“There are some serious constitutional issues in Mr. Musgrove’s case. There were, there was some evidence which was withheld, there are some questions about ballistics evidence that was introduced at trial, and there were some very unfortunate attorney mistakes. The consolidation of Mr. Musgrove’s trial with his co-defendant was one of the big problems with the case and one of the mistakes that our appeal contends his attorney made,” said Jackson.

Jackson said Musgrove has an alibi and people who claim he was in Florida when Barron was shot.

Musgrove’s case has some things in common with the case of former death row inmate Anthony Ray Hinton. Hinton was found not guilty last week by the United States Supreme Court.

“Both Mr. Hinton and Mr. Musgrove were prosecuted by the same attorney from the District Attorney’s Office, and he used the same ballistics expert. And both cases were tried in front of the same judge. Additionally, both men presented more than one alibi witness and both men have maintained their innocence since they were arrested,” said Jackson.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office must respond to the appeal by June 8th, 2015 according to Jackson.

State prosecutors declined to comment on the case.

Former federal prosecutor Doug Jones was consulted by attorneys working on the Hinton case. Jones said most convicted killers won’t be exonerated, but ensuring that they had a fair trial is vital.

“In many of these cases it’s simply a question of a new trial based on errors that occurred. I think that’s as important as exonerations- making sure that in a death penalty case everyone receives the absolute best and fairest trial possible,” said Jones.

“To take a step back and objectively look at how each of these cases come down is certainly needed in this state. I think it would help the reputation of the state and it’s what’s needed and has been needed for a long time,” said Jones.

Both Jackson and Jones are scheduled to speak at a symposium on capital murder case pitfalls at Samford University Tuesday April 7th, 2015 at noon. The event is geared towards teaching young lawyers what to expect and what to avoid.

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News


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