So inmate Brown, who was once a suspect in the murder of the guard, later testified against Wallace and received extensive benefits from the warden. Brown was removed from the general prison population. The warden wrote letters on his behalf for parole. And decades later, the warden testified that he had promised Brown aid before trial because "he had cracked the case for us." Yet none of this was enough to convince the state courts of Louisiana that Brown's testimony might have been tainted and that, even if it weren't, that Wallace was entitled to know about these arrangements at the time of trial.
The state court review of the Wallace verdict, in other words, was deliberately indifferent. But the law accounts for this. It's why there is a federal habeas review -- a procedural mechanism that permits federal judges to give men like Wallace a fairer and more neutral evaluation of their claims. But here, especially, lawmakers and judges have built walls separating law and justice. The Wallace case is a prime example of the ways in which the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and other statutes have undercut the strength of the Great Writ of Habeas Corpus, a building block of Western law.
The Next 40 Years: The Feds
Wallace filed his last appeal in 2009. It took 18 months for Louisiana to respond. And then it took more than two years — until September 13th of this year, two weeks ago — for U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Riedlinger to issue a ruling on the merits denying all of Wallace's claims for relief. That ruling, styled as a "Report," is a 65-page paean to form over substance, an example of how diligent the law can be in avoiding a search for the truth. First, there was the obligatory recitation of the statutory and case law that has whittled down to a nub the scope of the writ of habeas corpus. Then there was the logic. Here is just one example:
Petitioner asserted that in 1998, 14 years after he was convicted, he obtained documents discovered by co-defendant Woodfox which indicated that the State suppressed evidence that Warden Henderson provided Brown favors and promised to help him obtain a pardon in return for Brown's testimony at the petitioner's trial..
The foundation of the petitioner's Brady claim is centered on testimony of Warden Henderson and corrections officer Bobby Oliveaux at Woodfox's 1998 retrial. Oliveaux testified that Brown was housed at the dog pen and received cigarettes, birthday cakes and incentive wages. Warden Henderson testified essentially that at some unspecified time prior to Brown's trial testimony he promised to help Brown obtain a pardon...
Wallace's Brady claim that the State failed to divulge the fact that Brown had received "favors," such as desirable housing in exchange for his testimony, is without merit. Suppression exists only where a defendant did not - and could not - know about the essential facts that would enable him to take advantage of the evidence... Garretson, the petitioner's attorney, testified... that prior to the petitioner's trial he was aware of the favorable treatment Brown was receiving (Citations omitted by me)
There is a lot going on here so let me be brief. First, the magistrate cites unfavorably the length of time it took for Wallace to make his claim — 14 years — without acknowledging that Wallace's attorney was to blame for that delay by failing to appeal the original verdict. Then, the magistrate denies Wallace relief on the ground that this lawyer was aware of Brown's special treatment at the time of trial. This is the same lawyer, mind you, who in addition to not appealing his client's murder conviction also failed to recuse himself from representing all four co-defendants at the start of the trial. In the magistrate's revisionist history, under applicable legal standards, this lawyer, of all lawyers, is presumed to be both diligent and competent.
Here from the magistrate's "Report" is another example of this sort of warped reasoning countenanced by current federal review standards:
Petitioner has not carried his burden to establish that evidence [of witness Brown's deal] was suppressed.... Warden Henderson emphatically denied that an agreement had been struck with Brown. Then... he testified that nothing was promised to Brown initially, other than protection. Warden Henderson testified that sometime after that... he told Brown he would support a pardon application. Later, Warden Henderson agreed with defense counsel that promises were made before Brown testified. Obviously, this testimony was inconsistent.
Even assuming, without deciding, that the petitioner has established that the prosecution suppressed evidence that Warden Henderson promised Brown help with a pardon in exchange for his testimony against the petitioner, there is no likelihood of a different result. Brown's testimony was consistent with Jackson's testimony, the co-defendant who testified on behalf of the State against the petitioner. Moreover, Brown was a neutral witness.
See what's happening here? Even though the warden ultimately conceded under oath that there was a prior deal with Brown, and even though logic and common sense tell us that such a deal existed, the magistrate instead concludes that this evidence is "inconsistent." Then he labels Brown, the inmate who first was a suspect in the murder and who later had cigarettes delivered to him by prison guards, to be a "neutral witness." This is not a searing search for truth and justice. This is not a meaningful review of a trial record. It is instead a post-hoc rationalization of a dubious status quo.