During an emergency hearing today, the longtime federal public defender representing former death row inmate Paul House argued the state should be barred from retrying his client for a murder even the U.S. Supreme Court declared he almost certainly did not commit.
“His life has basically been destroyed by his unconstitutional conviction,” public defender Stephen Kissinger argued before a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. At the very least, Kissinger has asked that his client—who is in a wheelchair as a result of advanced multiple sclerosis—should be released pending a retrial for the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 2006 that “no reasonable juror” would convict House given the evidence—including exonerating post-conviction DNA evidence—the state plans to try him again this fall.
Last month, a federal judge vacated House’s original conviction and death sentence because his 1986 trial was riddled with constitutional violations. U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. ordered the state to retry him within 180 days or release him.
Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Smith argued the matter should now be left up to the state court in Union County, where a judge recently scheduled an October trial date and set his bail at $500,000, an amount that this family cannot afford, meaning he will remain incarcerated for the foreseeable future.
When Judge Gilbert S. Merritt sought details about the local prosecutor's case, Smith said it is not her place to discuss specifics about the retrial. This prompted a heated response from the judge, who said it is most certainly appropriate for him to determine whether “this prosecution is vindictive.”
Paul Phillips, the district attorney general for Union County who prosecuted the case 23 years ago, made the decision to retry House and is again handling the case. This time around, however, Phillips, who was sitting in the courtroom this afternoon, is not seeking the death penalty.