WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for seven men convicted of a 1984 murder in Washington urged a judge Monday to overturn their clients’ convictions, saying that the slaying was likely committed by one or two people and was not the mass beating described at trial.
The remarks were made during closing arguments of a three-week hearing where lawyers for the government and the group have been presenting evidence to a judge. The judge will decide whether to overturn the convictions or grant the men a new trial.
Prosecutors say they are confident in the original verdict. But lawyers for the men have said an “avalanche of new information” points to their clients’ innocence in the death of Catherine Fuller on Oct. 1, 1984. Fuller was robbed, beaten and sodomized, and left in a garage in a northeast Washington alley.
Lawyers for the group said Monday that scientific evidence shows that Fuller was likely murdered by one or two people because her injuries, bruising on the face and chest, were inconsistent with the mass beating and stomping described at trial. In addition, they said police had asked leading questions and threatened witnesses into false confessions. They argued that the witnesses in the case were vulnerable to false confessions because they were young, poor and uneducated. And they argued that the government’s case at trial was weak.
Robert Cary, one of the defense lawyers, said that the verdict a jury reached nearly three decades ago “is not worthy of confidence.” But Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg seemed skeptical about rejecting the testimony of multiple people who described a group being involved in Fuller’s death.
Lawyers for the men also argued that prosecutors should have turned over evidence at the time of the trial that two other men could have committed Fuller’s murder. That evidence alone should result in the convictions being overturned, they said.
Prosecutor Kacie Weston, however, told the judge that he could be confident in the convictions, and she said witnesses who have now recanted their testimony are not credible. The government has conceded all along that some evidence was not turned over, she said, but that evidence would not have made the case come out differently. And she said that a jury had heard conflicting evidence at the time of trial and still convicted the defendants.
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