[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TENN., VA., ARK.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Dec 13 11:18:00 CST 2004
Did Husband Kill Carolyn Muncey?
Paul Gregory House was convicted of murder and is facing execution, even
though 6 justices from one of the highest federal courts in the country
ruled that he is innocent and should be set free.
How can a man who so many judges believe is innocent still be executed?
The case involves the murder of Carolyn Muncey, a Tennessee woman who was
brutally beaten to death nearly 20 years ago. House was convicted, and has
been on death row ever since.
But after new evidence emerged, his case was taken to the U.S. Court of
Appeals, a panel of 15 federal judges. 8 of them ruled House was guilty
and should be executed. However, 6 of them said he was innocent and should
be set free. A seventh judge called House's case "an authentic whodunnit,"
and said he should have a new trial.
So, you be the judge. Who killed Carolyn Muncey? Correspondent Ed Bradley
On the afternoon of July 14, 1985, Munceys body was found under a brush
pile in a ravine less than 100 yards from her home in Luttrell, Tenn.
She had disappeared the previous night, while her 2 kids slept and her
husband was out drinking at a local dance. Shed been killed by a blow to
the head, and there were signs of a fierce struggle.
At first, people around Luttrell whispered theyd seen it coming - that
Hubert Muncey Jr., a drunk known for giving his wife black eyes and
bruises, had gone too far.
But within days, Union County police arrested Paul Gregory House, a
23-year-old paroled rapist from Utah who had just moved to Tennessee and
was friendly with the Munceys.
Paul Phillips prosecuted the case in 1986. He says House became a suspect
the day after the murder, when he inadvertently led a witness to the body.
"This witness is out in his car, searching for some sign of Carolyn
Muncey, and he sees House come up this bank. When he came up the bank,
he's carrying this black cloth. And we believe that that was his shirt
that he had lost from the night before," says Phillips. "Thats why we
think he went back to the body. This witness went back to that very spot
and discovered her body under the bank hidden under brush."
House told police hed been home the entire night. But his live-in
girlfriend, Donna Turner, blew his alibi, saying he left their
trailer-home about 10:30pm to go for a walk, and was gone a little over an
"According to Donna Turner, when he came back to the house that night, he
was exhausted. He was panting. He was sweating. He had no shirt. He had no
shoes," says Phillips. "His hand was all swollen up. He had scratches on
various parts of his body. I mean, that's significant. You don't get that
in ordinary activities."
He told Turner that he'd been jumped by two men in a pick-up truck, and
that one of them fired a gun at him as he ran through the woods to escape.
His lies, physical injuries and incredible story made House the prime
suspect. But the case was still entirely circumstantial.
Eventually, what did him in was the forensic evidence: semen stains on
Munceys nightgown, and what looked like blood on Houses jeans. The clothes
and samples of Munceys blood were boxed up and sent to the FBI lab in
Washington D.C. for analysis.
At the trial, an FBI serologist delivered the coup de grace. He testified
that the semen found on Munceys clothes came from someone with the same
blood type as House.
This happened before DNA testing, so he couldnt say for sure that it was
House. But he also testified that the blood found on Houses jeans was
consistent with Munceys blood.
The jury took less than four hours to convict House of first degree
murder. House has been on Tennessees death row ever since. In the last few
years, he's developed severe symptoms from multiple sclerosis and is
confined to a wheelchair. He also has difficulty speaking.
Bradley asked House if he killed Carolyn Muncey. "No," says House, who
denies having anything to do with the murder.
Why should we believe him? "I cant tell you any reason," says House.
"Other than Im telling you the truth."
Steve Kissinger of the federal public defenders office in Knoxville was
assigned Houses case in 1997. He says there are big problems with the
prosecutions timeline, which was just over an hour.
During that period of time, Mr. House would have had to have walked almost
two miles to the victim's house, lured the victim from her home, raped
her, killed her, hidden her body and walked 2 miles back to his
girlfriend's house," says Kissinger.
Kissinger is also skeptical about the testimony of the witness who says he
saw House at the scene of the crime the day after the murder. To
demonstrate, he took 60 Minutes to the spot where the man identified House
coming up the embankment. We had someone stand down there for reference.
Bradley said he could see someone standing there, but he couldnt identify
the person. What does that mean?
"The witness claimed that he was able to identify Mr. House from seeing
him from (that) distance," says Kissinger. "No binoculars, nothing else.
And in addition, he wasn't standing still like we are now. He was rolling
down the road at the time. He says he just glanced over there and saw Mr.
House, and was able to identify him. It just didnt happen."
Then, Kissinger began investigating persistent rumors around town that
police got the wrong man. And he quickly found a half dozen witnesses who
implicated Munceys husband, Hubert.
The most shocking accounts came from Kathy Parker and Penny Letner, two
sisters who've lived in Luttrell and known the Munceys all their lives.
They say that several weeks after the murder, Hubert came to Parker's home
drunk, and confessed to the crime. Parker admits she was drinking, too.
But Letner, whos on oxygen for a lung disease, says she was stone cold
"He set down and started talking. And he was crying and all. And he said,
'I didnt mean to do it,'" recalls Letner. "He said, 'We got into an
argument and I smacked her,' and he said, 'She fell and hit her head.' He
said, 'I had to get rid of the body, because I didn't wanna go to jail for
Could they have misheard what he said? "No, I wished I could have," says
Parker. "But no, I know what he said."
The next day, Parker said she went to police to tell them what happened,
and a deputy directed her to the courthouse. But she says no one was
interested in what she had to say, even though House was in custody and
his trial was getting under way.
She says she sat there for 2 days, but, "They didnt come get me."
"They didnt wanna hear nothing different," says Parker, who says she's
speaking out about it now because. "It's only fair that the people hear
the facts, the facts that were left out."
She believes theres an innocent man - House - on death row.
4 more witnesses provided evidence against Hubert Muncey. By now,
Kissinger was so convinced his client was innocent, he ordered
state-of-the-art DNA testing on all the forensic evidence.
The first results were vindication. The semen stains on Munceys nightdress
did not come from House, but from her husband. This time, it was the
prosecution that had some explaining to do.
If House didnt rape Muncey, what was his motive then for killing her?
"Well, what other motivation could there be to lure a person away from her
children, take her to a remote location, and then inflict those injuries
on her?" asks Phillips. "I don't think he succeeded in this sexual attack.
...What Im saying is, his motivation was rape, and that she fought him."
Rape was also one of the reasons the jury sentenced House to death. So,
armed with DNA evidence exonerating him of that crime, Kissinger went to
federal district court to demand his client be taken off death row.
But by this time, he had to contend with an additional DNA result much
less favorable for House. It turns out the blood on Houses jeans was
definitely Munceys. Phillips says the blood on the pants is the best
evidence they have.
So how could the blood have gotten on the jeans? "It couldnt leak during
transit," says Kissinger. "It couldve been placed there intentionally."
The jeans, and the blood samples that were put in a Styrofoam container,
were transported in one big box. The prosecution concedes some blood did
spill from one of the vials, but says it happened after the FBI finished
But the defense says when they received the evidence, there was an another
vial of blood that was nearly empty, and that blood remains unaccounted
In court, opposing experts fought over the meaning of all this. But in the
end, Kissinger believed he'd proven that the blood evidence was, at best,
But the federal judge didnt see it that way, and ruled that the new
evidence was too little, too late. The judge said while the DNA may not
have come from House, the defense did not disprove the states theory that
house lured Muncey outside in order to rape her.
As for the new witnesses, the judge said 13 years is too long to wait to
tell their stories.
Kissinger brought his case to the second highest court in the country, the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which came away divided.
Eight of the judges, the majority, affirmed the guilty verdict. But 6
thought he was completely innocent and should be released.
In their dissenting opinion, those six judges essentially accused Hubert
Muncey Jr. of murder. So 60 Minutes tracked him down to get his side of
the story. Muncey reluctantly admitted that back then, he wasn't the
perfect husband. But he says he stopped drinking 10 years ago, and has
He denied hitting his wife when he was drunk. "You never hit her, not
once?" asks Bradley.
"Well, not except when she called me a bad name or something," says Hubert
Muncey. "Smack her, backhand her, or something, you know? But nothing
"Theres some people around here who say that you killed her," says
"Oh, no, no sir," says Hubert Muncey.
"Why would they say that?" asks Bradley.
"I have no idea, sir," says Hubert Muncey.
But one reason people would think he did it may have been his arrest
record, which lists 19 incidents through 1996. Most were for public
drunkenness, but some were more serious, including assault, stalking, even
beating up 2 police officers.
So Bradley asked him again about his alleged confession: "You never said
anything to these 2 women. You never went to them in tears and said, 'I
made a mistake. It was an accident.'"
"No, sure didn't," says Hubert Muncey. "They have to be making it up."
But Parker and Letner say hes lying. "We have no reason to make up
anything," says Letner. "We were born and raised around him and his
family. And theres no reason to tell a lie about this."
Now, House has one last chance. Next month, his attorney will ask the U.S.
Supreme Court to take Houses case.
Kissinger will argue that under current law, it is nearly impossible for a
convicted felon to prove his innocence, even with compelling new evidence.
"This man will die for the crime of which he has been convicted. Are you
sure you got the right man? Bradley asked Phillips.
"I am sure that we have the right man. In my opinion, whether or not he
dies is up to him," says Phillips. "And if this man were to ever take
responsibility for what he did and express remorse, I am sure the governor
would give serious consideration to commuting his death sentence."
What does House have to say to that? "Well, you dont really want to know
what I have to say about that," he says. "They can go to hell." Even if
his sentence were commuted, "I dont really have any life left," says
"So if you dont really have any life left, and they say you did it, why
dont you admit and say, 'I did it?'" asks Bradley.
"Because I didn't do it," says House. "I dont want to be remembered for
something I didnt do."
(source: CBS News)
Mr. Kilgore's False Start
Jerry W. Kilgore, the Republican attorney general of Virginia, apparently
needs a refresher course on the Constitution. In attacking his likely
opponent in the state's 2005 gubernatorial race, Democratic Lt. Gov.
Timothy M. Kaine, the attorney general said last week that Mr. Kaine "not
only opposes the death penalty but actually represented death row
inmates." As it happens, Mr. Kaine, a fair-housing and small-business
lawyer at the time, acted as a court-appointed attorney to represent 2
Virginia death row inmates -- one in the mid-'80s, the other around 1990.
He did so, he says, after much soul-searching and in the knowledge that
lawyers are bound by the ethics of their profession not to reject cases
simply because they may be unpopular. As an attorney appointed by the
state Supreme Court, Mr. Kaine was fulfilling a public service.
Mr. Kilgore's inane accusation is an affront to the principles of justice
he is sworn to uphold. It's no great shock that he embraces the death
penalty; what's surprising is that, as the state's top law enforcement
official, he would imply that there is something wrong with representing
defendants or convicts in capital cases. In fact, the attorney general in
Virginia, whatever his stance on capital punishment, should be applauding
lawyers who agree to represent inmates on death row, many of whom have no
defense counsel whatever.
Mr. Kilgore was also once a lawyer in private practice. We assume that all
his clients were law-abiding paragons of righteous behavior, but for the
sake of argument let's say some of them were not. Should Mr. Kaine then
attack him for his former clients' transgressions? Of course not.
(source: Editorial, Washington Post)
Executions Becoming Easier To Oppose
You may remember Betsey Wright, Bill Clintons chief of staff much of the
time he was governor. She was fired once, not by Clinton but by then-state
Sen. Nick Wilson, the poster boy for all thats wrong with government.
Wilson was president pro tempore of the Senate when the governor and
lieutenant governor were out of state, so, as acting governor, he
terminated Wright, who was promptly rehired when Clinton returned.
It was one of many of Wilsons political shenanigans during his long
political career - before he went to federal prison. But this isnt about
Its about Wright and the death penalty. Wright resides in northwest
Arkansas and spends a great deal of time and effort as an advocate for
Arkansas death-row inmates. She visits death row with regularity and
advocates the abolishment of the death penalty in the state. In fact, shes
just wrapping up year 1 of an 8-year plan to get the death penalty
abolished in Arkansas.
Wright sends out occasional notes relating to her issue of choice, one she
says shes felt strongly about since childhood. Her latest one, on
eye-catching green card stock, is about death-penalty costs. She notes
studies in four states - North Carolina, Indiana, Florida and Kansas -
that show it costs more to administer the death penalty than to keep
inmates behind bars for life. Most of the costs are related to trials and
In Kansas, for example, the 2003 Kansas Performance Audit Report shows
that death penalty cases are 70 % more expensive than comparable cases
that dont involve the death penalty. The Indiana report, done in 1992 by
the Indiana Criminal Law Study Commission, shows total costs of death
penalty cases exceed the complete costs of life without parole sentences
by 38 %.
The North Carolina and Florida reports deal in dollars. Each death penalty
case costs $2.16 million more than the cost of a life without parole case
in North Carolina, according to a 1993 Duke University study. In Florida,
according to the Palm Beach Post, the state spent $51 million a year more
in 2000 on the death penalty than it would have cost to give all
1st-degree murderers life without parole.
Wright may ask the 2005 Legislature for an Arkansas cost study, she says.
I used to think I knew how I felt about the death penalty.
Some crimes are so heinous that it seems that death is the only fitting
penalty. I dont judge anyone who believes that way, especially if they are
family members of crime victims. That was what I believed, too.
Im not so sure anymore. In 1994, I was assigned to be a witness and
reporter at a triple execution in Arkansas. A colleague and I were
dispatched from The Associated Press. I was among the dozen or so to watch
the first and third executions. My colleague was a media witness for the
second lethal injection while I stood before other reporters and TV
cameras to tell what I had seen and heard. Only 2 media witnesses were
allowed inside and part of the job was to serve as pool reporters for
other news media representatives who waited in a prison cafeteria. A
triple execution was national news and my mug showed up on national
newscasts that evening and the next day, explaining the lethal injection
process and what it was like inside the death chamber and witness room.
I havent looked back at the stories; I dont remember as much about the
third execution as the first; I can never remember the names of those I
watched die unless I look it up on the Internet or in archives. Maybe some
psychiatrist can explain it, but in laymans terms. it has been sort of a
mental block. Maybe its that I have chosen not to remember.
What I do recall is that I approached the assignment only as a job,
nothing more. I remember taking notes, watching the clock behind the
gurney, and seeing the first mans white skin turn ashen just before he was
pronounced dead. The rest is a blur.
It just didnt seem right to see a perfectly healthy man die while people
watched. Im not sure society wouldnt be better off keeping the monsters
Another thing to consider is that life without parole may be a tougher
punishment than death.
Abolishing the death penalty will be a tough sell in Arkansas. However, I
would never bet against Betsey Wright, especially Betsey Wright with an
(source: Opinion, Dennis Byrd is the chief of Stephens media groups
Arkansas news bureau in Little Rock; Fort Smith Times Record)
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