As we have discussed before, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has a long history of rogue prosecutors who engaged in all sorts of unethical and sometimes illegal conduct to advance their professional careers.
Take, for example, former, and quite infamous, Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler who last year was found by a local Harris County criminal court judge to have engaged in 36 instances of prosecutorial misconduct in the case of David Temple—an innocent man she relentlessly pursued until she got a wrongful conviction.
Cold Justice Cancelled After Defamation Suit
This former roguish prosecutor, and former TNT reality show star (“Cold Justice”), managed to get herself, the TNT network, and the producers of Cold Justice sued for violating the civil rights and defaming an acquitted Ohio murder suspect. The lawsuit resulted in the cancellation of Cold Justice this past May.
Harris County Prosecutor Allowed False Testimony in Murder Trial
And, then, there is the recent finding of prosecutorial misconduct, and possible criminal perjury, against current Harris County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Shipley Exley who was recently found to have knowingly allowed false testimony to be used to convict Edward George McGregor in 2000 for the two capital murders that occurred in 1994 and 1997 in Fort Bend and Harris counties, respectively.
There was no physical evidence to connect McGregor to the murders, so prosecutor Exley secured what turned out to be highly suspect testimony of three jailhouse snitches—all of whom, according to a November 11, 2016 Houston Press report, testified they overheard McGregor confess to the murders.
Murder Conviction Overturned for Prosecutorial Misconduct
An earlier report in Mimesis Law, written by JoAnne Musick, pointed out that 434th District Court Judge James Shoemake, presiding in Fort Bend County, recently recommended habeas corpus relief for McGregor that would set aside his murder conviction and life sentence. Musick described Exley’s role in the McGregor case:
“ … McGregor was tried in Fort Bend County, just southwest of Houston and Harris County. Harris County prosecutor Elizabeth Shipley Exley served as co-counsel for the State in this Fort Bend County prosecution as she was simultaneously prosecuting a separate murder case involving McGregor, but in Harris County. The Fort Bend case was considered the ‘stronger’ case and preceded to trial first. After McGregor received an automatic life sentence in Fort Bend County, Shipley dismissed McGregor’s Harris County case.”
And just how did Exley manage to secure the Fort Bend County conviction?
Musick said the prosecutor got three jailhouse snitches—Delores Gable, Marvin Paxton, and Adam Osani—two whom (Paxton and Osani) testified they overheard McGregor confess to killing two “bitches” in jail. Gable testified that years earlier she had heard McGregor make the same confession to her husband in a free world setting.
No Specific Promise…
Each snitch testified they were not promised any benefits from Exley in exchange for their testimony, but each ultimately did receive a significant benefit: a letter from Exley to the parole board supporting Gable’s parole request; Paxton had five aggravated robberies reduced to robbery which significantly reduced the amount of time he would spent in prison; and Osani had a felony family violence charge reduced to a misdemeanor after Exley spoke to the prosecutor handling his case.
Exley did not disclose any of this information to McGregor’s defense counsel or the court. Speaking to these “secret deals,” Musick explains why Exley didn’t feel she had a duty to disclose:
“Pretty slick. No specific promise for parole; only a letter saying [Gable] had helped. No specific deal cut for Paxton; only an agreement to let the court know he had cooperated. No specific agreement for Osani; only a suggestion to his trial prosecutor that he provided critical help and that should be considered in his plea bargain. So long as there was no specific deal, there was no obligation to disclose it. In fact, the State argued that it need not disclose rewards, agreements, or understandings for consideration unless there has been a ‘firm promise’ – a quid pro quo – made before the witness testified. In other words, so long as there is no ‘binding contract,’ Brady obligations are not triggered.”
Secret Deals and Eliciting False Testimony
Prosecutors who commit prosecutorial misconduct are a blight on the adversarial trial process. They lie, conceal, and cheat in order to win at all costs. McGregor attorney, Randy Schaffer, put it this way to the Houston Press:
“For a prosecutor to make secret arrangement with witnesses, not disclose them to the defense and jury, and elicit false testimony where the witnesses deny it, I find that to be just totally deplorable. It’s basically saying we have the right to present false testimony and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.”
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has not offered any public explanation about Exley’s misconduct, creating the natural assumption that no internal disciplinary action will be taken against the prosecutor.
Schaffer has called upon Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to file a criminal perjury charge against Exley.