The case involved prosecutorial misconduct, and the Tarrant County District Attorney's office has already agreed to a life sentence in the case. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruling in Ex Parte Richardson is available in Adobe .pdf format.
Today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports, "Court overturns woman's death sentence in Mansfield case." It's written by Dianna Hunt.
The state's highest criminal court on Wednesday overturned the death sentence for Chelsea Lee Richardson, condemned by a Tarrant County jury in 2005 for the deaths of her boyfriend's parents in Mansfield.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the punishment phase of Richardson's trial was affected by misconduct by then-prosecutor Mike Parrish, who withheld evidence from the defense.
Richardson's attorney, Robert Ford, said a deal has been reached with the Tarrant County district attorney's office for Richardson, now 27, to receive a life sentence.
Because she is subject to the penal code that was in place in 2005 when she was convicted, she would be eligible for parole after serving 40 years.
"I hope it sends the message that this kind of cheating won't be tolerated," Ford said. "It probably cost Tarrant County and the state courts in the millions [of dollars] when you consider the cost of all the trials, appeals, everything."
Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon, who took office after Parrish retired in 2008, said the court's ruling affirms an agreement reached by both sides in June.
"As I have often stated, this office will not be a party to the infliction of death as a punishment when there is even an appearance of impropriety on the part of a prosecutor who formerly worked in this office," Shannon said in a written statement.
"If the death penalty is to be used, it must be obtained legally, fairly and honestly and without the hint of possible injustice."
And, the reference below is to a co-defendant:
Ford has contended that Parrish's misconduct was failing to tell Richardson's attorneys, Warren St. John and Terry Barlow, about 11 pages of notes taken by a psychologist who interviewed Toledano at Parrish's request. Ford argued that some of Toledano's statements to the psychologist could have been used to lessen Richardson's culpability.
After a number of hearings over the years, the district attorney's office agreed with Ford that the notes could have been used to attack the state's theory that Richardson was the mastermind of the killings and should have been turned over.
"Woman on Texas death row to be re-sentenced; life term expected," is Molly Hennessy-Fiske's report for the Los Angeles Times.
“This office will not be a party to the infliction of death as a punishment when there is even an appearance of impropriety on the part of a prosecutor who formerly worked in this office," Tarrant County Dist. Atty. Joe Shannon said in a statement released to The Times. "If the death penalty is to be used, it must be obtained legally, fairly and honestly and without the hint of a possible injustice.”
It was not clear whether Shannon planned to ask the Texas attorney general to investigate misconduct by prosecutor Michael Parrish, who has since retired.
"It ought to be addressed so it doesn't happen again," Richardson's Fort Worth-based attorney, Robert Ford, told The Times. "This guy in my opinion is a criminal and we need a special prosecutor to look into it."
Last month, Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott's office announced that it would act as special prosecutor in investigating similar allegations that prosecutors in an Austin suburb withheld evidence in the 1987 trial of Michael Morton. Morton, 57, was released Oct. 4 after serving 25 years of a life sentence in connection with his wife's 1986 slaying, a crime that DNA evidence has since linked to a male suspect wanted in connection with another killing.
Last year, a Texas committee that was convened to prevent wrongful convictions noted that, of the state’s first 39 DNA exonerations, seven involved evidence suppression or other prosecutorial misconduct.
According to the State Bar of Texas, Parrish has no public disciplinary history. But Parrish testified during the Richardson appeal that he had previously been issued a private reprimand by the State Bar of Texas in connection with withholding evidence in the death penalty case of Michael Roy Toney, Ford said.
A decade after Toney was convicted of arson and murder in connection with a 1985 mobile home bombing and sentenced to die, his conviction was overturned after it was revealed that prosecutors withheld more than a dozen documents of evidence. He was released in 2009, and died a month later in a car crash.
Parrish did not return calls Wednesday.
Ford urged the district attorney and Texas attorney general to investigate Parrish to deter other prosecutors from ignoring Brady and "open file" requirements and withholding evidence to score convictions.
"Prosecutors who want to cheat won't cheat if there's a penalty attached to it," he said.
The AP filing is, "Texas woman on death row to instead get life term," via CBS News.
One of 10 women on death row in Texas won an appeal Wednesday that will result in a life prison sentence after her lawyer argued prosecutors improperly withheld evidence about comments made by their key witness from her original punishment hearing.
Chelsea Richardson, 27, was convicted of masterminding the slayings of her boyfriend's parents so he could inherit their $1.56 million estate. She was 19 at the time of the December 2003 killings.
Her appeal focused on what her attorney, Robert Ford, said was a prosecutor's failure to give Richardson's trial lawyers notes from a psychologist that suggested another woman masterminded the plot to kill Rick and Suzanna Wamsley of Mansfield, about 20 miles southeast of Fort Worth.
According to the notes, the other woman, Susana Toledano, told the psychologist she was "more guilty than either of them," referring to Richardson and her boyfriend, Andrew Wamsley, that she "did wrong" and "probably could have prevented" the killings.
Toledano — a longtime friend of Richardson's who was the key witness in the prosecution case — took a plea deal from prosecutors to avoid a possible death sentence and testified against Richardson and Wamsley, who also was convicted at trial. Wamsley and Toledano are both serving life prison terms.
Ford said he was reviewing the court transcript of Toledano's testimony at Richardson's trial and found that under prosecution questioning she talked about being interviewed by a psychologist. Notes from that interview, however, never were made available to Richardson's defense team. Ford then obtained the 11 pages of handwritten notes from the psychologist.
A judge from another county was appointed to hear the appeal and recommended a new punishment to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which acted on the case Wednesday.
The responsibility of the state to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense was articulated in the 1963 Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland; more via Oyez.
Related posts are in the prosecutorial misconduct index.