Back in 2008, Steven Mark Weinstein was convicted for murder after a man was found dead and decomposing in the trunk of Weinstein's car.
Now Weinstein might be granted a new trial by the Court of Criminal Appeals, if the court decides a witness gave false testimony in the murder trial, according to court documents.
Jerry Glaspie, 28, disappeared on January 29, 2007, and his decomposing body was found in the trunk of a car on March 24, 2007. His body was discovered with the hands and feet handcuffed, mouth covered with tape, after residents complained of the smell. Prosecutors said Glaspie was strangled after a $14,000 drug deal went bad. In 2008 Weinstein was convicted of the killing and sentenced to 30 years in prison for the crime.
"It was an appropriate verdict," then Harris County Assistant District Attorney Murray Newmand told the Houston Chronicle back then.
Weinstein's appeal of his conviction was denied. Last June, his current lawyer, Randy Schaffer, filed a writ of habeas corpus claiming that Weinstein wasn't properly represented, that information was withheld and that there was false testimony from a witness. (If the Court of Criminal Appeals grants relief to a writ -- translation: agrees with points being argued -- then the applicant gets a new trial.)
The witness in question is Nathan Adams, a man with a history of convictions, drug addictions and mental health issues.
Adams was being treated for bipolar disorder when he shared a cell with Weinstein. He wrote the Harris County District Attorney's Office letters saying he could help them convict Weinstein if they cut Adams a deal. They did and he testified, though he disappeared and had to be tracked down by the DA's office in order to appear in court, Schaffer said.
Adams testified that Weinstein told him everything about the crime, how he allegedly used a towel to strangle Glaspie, that the murder was over money, how he tried to use an engine lift to get Glaspie's body out of the trunk but couldn't. (An engine lift was found in Weinstein's garage when the body was discovered.)
Schaffer claims that the state withheld evidence that Adams heard voices and had hallucinations. In the first hearing, held last summer, the prosecutors of the case testified that they disclosed Adams's condition. Adams was asked during the trial whether he ever had audio hallucinations, and he said he did not, even though Schaffer said he had a medical history of hallucinations and was complaining around the time of the trial of hearing voices telling him to kill himself.
While prosecutors contended, according to court documents, that Adams was not a key witness because other witnesses knew the things he knew, Schaffer disagreed. He said the prosecutors knew Adams was a key witness in the trial because when he disappeared, they spent an entire night searching for him.
"The judge said if you don't find this guy, you can't make this case, and now the state's trying to say his testimony wasn't important" Schaffer said.
In December, Judge Maria Jackson of the 339th Criminal Court recommended the Court of Criminal Appeals deny relief (translation: no new trial for Weinstein) based on the fact that both sides had enough knowledge of Adams's mental state, as did the jury, and that Weinstein had received adequate legal representation in the murder trial that saw him convicted and given 30 years for strangling a man and leaving the body in his trunk so long it was discovered after the neighbors complained of the stench.
The way this system works, the trial court makes a recommendation, but the Court of Criminal Appeals looks at that recommendation and decides whether to agree or kick the case back to the trial court if it is felt some angle was missed.
A couple of weeks ago, the Court of Criminal Appeals did just that, reviewing the recommendations of the 339th and noting that the court didn't take into account the question of whether Adams gave false testimony that could have affected the case.
Namely, though some of his mental health history was disclosed, when asked in court whether he had audio hallucinations, Adams said no. During the hearing held Thursday, a tape was played where Adams said that he didn't consider the voices in his head telling him to kill himself to be audio hallucinations and so didn't answer the question correctly, Schaffer said. Prosecutors testified that the testimony was unintentionally wrong, not false testimony, Schaffer said.
"The state will not admit to doing anything wrong, even when it's right in front of them. Their statement yesterday was that the testimony was unintentionally incorrect. They can't just admit they got it wrong," Schaffer said.
On Thursday, Judge Jackson looked at the case again from the false testimony angle and recommended relief (a new trial.) Again, this is only a recommendation and one that will be reviewed by the Court of Criminal Appeals. If the justices on that court decide the recommendation is correct and "recommend relief," Weinstein will actually get a new trial.
Glaspie's body was found in Weinstein's trunk in the garage of Weinstein's home, so it seems pretty hard to argue that Weinstein didn't try to hide the body, the crime he was originally charged with, Schaffer acknowledged. However, Schaffer noted that the medical examiner initially couldn't find a decisive cause of death, because of the decay of the body.
Adams was the one who told the jury that Weinstein told him he strangled the man with a towel, even illustrating how he did it on Adams. Schaffer said he just wants to make sure his client is tried and convicted for the crimes he committed based on the evidence that they have.
"It's important to me that if people are going to be convicted for a crime, they should be convicted on truthful testimony," Schaffer said. "To try and say they want to keep a conviction based on false testimony is reprehensible."
(Note: We're still waiting to hear back from the Harris County District Attorney's Office for their side of this whole thing. From the looks of the court documents, they see it pretty differently.)
It will likely take months for a ruling from the Court of Criminal Appeals on this case. If the justices decide to grant relief, 12 jurors may once again get to review whether or not the guy found in the trunk of Weinstein's car in his garage was killed by Weinstein or if his crime was hiding Glaspie's body, but murdering him. Weinstein's been serving a 30-year sentence now. If he gets a new trial, he could be acquitted or convicted and sentenced to way more years -- life -- or way less.
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