Sunday, October 7, 2007

TRIALS: That's not the man!

On September 27th, my client, Gregory Wayne Steen, was found not guilty in the 299th District Court.

Steen was charged as a habitual criminal (25-life) with Aggravated Robbery of a Disabled Person. It was alleged that in April of this year, the victim stepped off a bus in East Austin and was accosted by a black male with shoulder length curly hair, wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans. The assailant ripped a backpack off her back and took off. The backpack contained a stun gun, address book, and other personal papers.

Some 15 minutes later, Steen was seen running out of an abandoned house away from the police wearing a tan checkered shirt and green pants. He was wearing a beige colored muscle shirt underneath his shirt (I think it was once white). The police apprehended Steen after he hid under a house, and the victim identified him on the spot, despite the descrepancies in the description.

In trial, the police testified that while the victim told them the person ran towards a particular establishment down the street, the police never went inside. The backpack and items were never recovered in the house Steen ran from either. Besides running away from them and avoiding detention, they had no other reason to stop him. However, after a few moments, the victim did ID Steen again in the courtroom as the man who attacked her. For a fleeting moment, we thought she might ID Skip Davis sitting next to me.

On cross, the victim admitted the T-shirt of the assailant had regular sleeves, the assailant had no facial hair (Steen had plenty after waiting for trial), and reaffirmed the original description. When I decided to challenge the notion of shoulder-length curly hair, I asked the State for the booking photo. The booking photo had Steen wearing the clothes just admitted into evidence. Before I could inquire very specifically into the hair and maybe thinking I was trying to trick her, the victim blurted out "That's not him! That's not the man who attacked me!" Needless to say, after the state stipulated to the authenticity of the booking photo, I rested. My closing was less than 10 minutes. The verdict was back in 45 minutes.

What would I have done if she said "That's the man! That's the man!" I don't know. Or, what if he was convicted and I had never put an expert on eyewitness identification, I don't know either. But I learned one thing all over again. No matter how hard you prepare, you can never anticipate many moments like that.

Steen is the same person acquitted of Capital Murder 10 years ago and was shot by police some years before that. What a life.

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