Death Sentence Commuted After Lawyer Receives Permission to Reveal Misconduct
If there is a nightmare that haunts criminal defense attorneys, it is being forced to remain silent when speaking out would prevent an innocent man from going to prison ... or worse. That was Leslie Smith's dilemma after he watched prosecutors coax his client, William Jones, to change his story so that it would match other evidence. Prosecutors used Jones to convince a jury that Daryl Atkins shot a man to death, resulting in a death sentence (later vacated) for Atkins.
“As he began to describe the positions of the individuals and the firing of the shots,” Mr. Smith said last month, referring to his client, a prosecutor “reached over and stopped the tape recorder.” ... The problem was that Mr. Jones’s account did not match the physical evidence. “This isn’t going to do us any good,” Ms. Krinick said, according to Mr. Smith.
For 15 minutes, Mr. Smith said, prosecutors coaxed and coached Mr. Jones to produce testimony against Mr. Atkins that did match the evidence.
After being told by ethics authorities for years that he could not reveal the prosecutor's misconduct, Smith finally received approval from the state bar's ethics authority to tell what he knew.
His testimony caused a state court judge in Yorktown, Va., to commute the death sentence of Daryl R. Atkins to life on Thursday, citing prosecutorial misconduct.
Smith's pursuit of the right result saved Atkins from facing the possibility of a second death sentence. Let's hope both Smith and Atkins can finally sleep easy.
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