A man who had served over 13-years in an Illinois prison for a murder he did not commit, was granted clemency last week by Gov. Pat Quinn. Alan Beaman (42) had been convicted of first-degree murder of his girlfriend, Jennifer Lockmiller, and sentenced to 50 years in prison in 1993. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the conviction on May 22nd, 2008 and remanded it back to the trial court for a new trial. Beaman was released from prison after the decision on bond and eventually received a “Certificate of Innocence” once new DNA evidence established the presence of two previously unknown men. The pardon was the final hurdle for Beaman.
On August 28th, 1993, Lockmiller’s body was found in her apartment in Normal, Illinois- she was a student at Illinois Wesleyan State University nearby. The autopsy revealed that she had been strangled with a cord from a clock-radio and stabbed with a pair of scissors many times. Multiple fingerprints were lifted from the scene. However, only one set remained unidentified. Her body appeared to be staged in such a manner to suggest that she had been raped. At the trial, the state was successfully able to argue that Beaman had the motive and opportunity to kill her. The defense had attempted to introduce evidence relating to an alternative suspect identified in appellate proceedings as “John Doe.” The theory was that the defendant had a constitutional right to blame the murder on someone else, however, the state convinced the trial judge that the defendant’s claim that “John Doe” had anything to do with the murder was based upon conjecture and “speculative” theory; the defense, at the time, had no specific evidence to support the claim. Moreover, the state avowed to the court that they did not have any evidence to support a claim that a third-party killed Lockmiller. The state then proceeded to call two other possible suspects (not John Doe) to testify who had alibis; they then argued all the suspects except Beaman had an alibi.
During later post-conviction proceedings, the defense was able to establish that the state was in possession of evidence pertaining to John Doe that would have been useful to the defense and admissible at trial because it wouldn’t have been considered “speculative.” Specifically, the defense established that “John Doe” had: (1) failed a polygraph examination; (2) had been charged with domestic battery and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver prior to Beaman’s trial; (3) he had physically abused his girlfriend on numerous prior occasions; and (4) his use of steroids had caused him to act erratically. On appeal, the defendant essentially argued that pursuant to the United States case of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the state had violated his due process rights by failing to disclose this exculpatory evidence. The Supreme Court agreed and reaffirmed the holding in Brady that a defendant’s right to due process of law is violated when a prosecutor fails to disclose evidence to the defendant when: (1) the evidence is favorable to the defense because it is either exculpatory or impeaching in nature; (2) the evidence was suppressed by the state either willfully or inadvertently; and (3) the accused was prejudiced because the evidence is material to guilt or punishment. The evidence is “material” if there is a reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different had the evidence been disclosed. It was immediately clear to the court that this evidence was material and the defendant deserved a new trial.
COMMENT: While not explicitly referring to this case, it is worthy to note that defense lawyers routinely request discovery in their client’s cases. It is also common to specifically request the so-called Brady evidence. It is not enough that a particular prosecutor does not have in her/his possession potentially exculpatory evidence- they have a DUTY to request such information from the police and detectives who are investigating the case. Prosecutors are “Ministers of Justice,” and they are ethically and legally compelled to search for the truth and not only focus on convictions. When the police or prosecutors hide exculpatory evidence, everyone loses. The defense lawyers must play by the same rules. There are numerous lawsuits being filed each year in this country, and many of them have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. And in those cases where the evidence is never disclosed or discovered, innocent people end of languishing in prison for crimes they did not commit.