That's the title of a report in the Texas edition of the New York Times, by Maurice Chammah of the Texas Tribune. "Death Penalty Witness Condemned by Courts," is posted at the Tribune.
A. P. Merillat has spent two decades investigating crimes in Texas prisons, and his testimony about the violence that inmates serving life sentences can inflict has helped send at least 15 murderers to death row.
Now the credibility of Mr. Merillat — a go-to expert for prosecutors seeking the death penalty — has been condemned by the state’s highest criminal court, after judges determined that Mr. Merillat gave false testimony. Two death sentences were reversed to life sentences, the most recent in June. Mr. Merillat said he was close to being devastated by those decisions. “A guilty capital murderer was removed from the punishment a jury, according to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, determined he deserved,” Mr. Merillat said.
Mr. Merillat says he believes the court has unfairly jeopardized his standing and that he is facing an uphill battle to repair it.
“I am currently attempting to rebuild my reputation for honor and integrity that was so unjustifiably destroyed by our own Court of Criminal Appeals,” he said.
Mr. Merillat, 56, began his career as a police officer in Huntsville and Houston, and for years, he said, he assumed that anyone who committed a “heinous capital murder” would be closely watched by the prison.
“I was very mistaken,” he said.
For the last 20 years, Mr. Merillat has been an investigator with the Special Prosecution Unit, an independent agency financed by the governor’s office to investigate and prosecute crimes that occur in prison.
For a Texas jury to sentence a murderer to death, it must find that he or she will be a continuing threat to society. For decades, prosecutors relied on psychiatrists to testify that the accused would commit violent crimes again if given a sentence less than death.
Many of those psychiatric experts, like James Grigson (popularly known as Dr. Death), Richard Coons and George Denkowski, have since been discredited for their predictions of future likelihood of causing harm. Instead, prosecutors have turned to prison experts for testimony about the opportunities for violence behind bars — but outside death row.
But in 2010, the Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals threw out the death sentence of Adrian Estrada for the 2005 stabbing of 17-year-old Stephanie Sanchez. Judge Barbara Hervey found Mr. Merillat erred by testifying that a convicted capital murderer would have more freedom in prison than would ever be possible.
Then, earlier this year, the court threw out the death sentence of Manuel Velez, a death row inmate convicted of killing his girlfriend’s infant son, after his lawyers found Mr. Merillat had given similar testimony in his Cameron County trial.