Without The Coerced Confession, Adrian Thomas Acquitted

“After the Court of Appeals threw out the his statements of guilt, we did the best we could with what we had left,” said Assistant District Attorney Christa Book. “I’m sorry that I could not bring Matthew justice.”

The Albany Times-Union called the acquittal “stunning.”  Like beauty, stunning is in the eyes of the beholder.  That Adrian Thomas was retried following the reversal of his conviction by the Court of Appeals is ugly.  That the prosecutor, in the face of the ruling and the defense evidence that Adrian’s son, Matthew, died not from any abuse, but from a bacterial infection, still believed that he committed murder was stunning.

Coffey used testimony from outside medical experts to argue that the baby died of a bacterial infection and not through any action of his father.

Thomas was convicted in 2009 of second-degree murder in the boy’s death, but the state Court of Appeals ordered a new trial earlier this year. The justices, in a 7-0 decision released in February, cited heavy-handed tactics used by Troy investigators, who interrogated Thomas for almost nine hours before he demonstrated how he threw the child.

The acquittal comes nearly six years after 4-month-old Matthew died, and Troy Police Sergeant Adam Mason manipulated a confession out of Thomas because an ER doc mistakenly jumped to the conclusion that the death was caused by abuse.  The defense tried to get the court to allow a false confession expert, Richard Ofshe, to testify, but the court instead went with the prosecution’s “expert,” Paul Cassell, who explained that false confessions don’t really happen.

But it’s not like the prosecution had no evidence to put before the jury on retrial.

They did hear from several witnesses, including Thomas’ 14-year-old stepdaughter, late last month. As she left the stand, she shouted obscenities at him. The boy’s maternal grandmother also took the stand.

After all, the stepdaughter was 8 years old when Matthew died, and spent nearly half her life hearing about how Adrian Thomas killed him.  What a shock that she would believe it with all her heart. But she was a child.  ADA Christa Book was not.

[Defense lawyer Stephen] Coffey criticized the witnesses for the prosecution — one of whom he called a jailhouse witness with a long criminal history — saying much of much of the evidence they delivered was contradictory.

What’s a trial without a jailhouse snitch?  After all, it’s not like jailhouse snitches have any motive to lie in exchange for leniency.  As Grover Babcock, who produced the movieScenes of a Crime” about the case, explains in an email:

At the start of the trial, in a surprise move, the prosecution produced a jailhouse informant to testify against Adrian Thomas.  William Terry wrote letters to prosecutors about 5 years earlier (prior to Thomas’s first trial) claiming various jail-mates had confessed crimes to him, including Thomas.  Terry wasn’t called in the original trial, and this time prosecutors claimed they had forgotten all about Terry until the day before the trial started.

As you might expect, Terry wanted a deal for leniency on pending charges, something prosecutors disclaimed in front of the judge while trying to have Terry approved as a witness.

Later, the defense presented evidence that prosecutors had negotiated a deal for Terry, but the judge didn’t sanction prosecutors for their false assurances.

A surprise, but hardly stunning. When there is a prosecutorial failure of proof, and they know, they just know, the defendant is guilty, grasping at straws is the way to go.  And while dirtying up their case with the least reliable evidence available, the jailhouse snitch, may not have made the cut when they had a coerced confession in hand, Terry started looking taller, handsomer and credible when they were shooting blanks.

Even so, the jury didn’t bite:

“There was a lot of emotion in the room, but also a lot of uncertainty,” said a juror after the verdict. “We were trying to grasp that we could not use stuff that was not allowable but we all agreed in the end he was not guilty based on what we had in front of us.”

What’s meant by “grasp that we could not use stuff that was not allowable” is unclear and frightening.  Was the jury aware, despite all the protections to prevent them from becoming aware, of “things” not in evidence?  Did they know of the confession?

To their credit, whatever the juror is talking about didn’t prevent them from doing their job, and that job was to acquit Adrian Thomas of the murder of his son, a murder that never happened.

Stunning.

9 comments on “Without The Coerced Confession, Adrian Thomas Acquitted

  1. Nigel Declan

    Perhaps someday the courts will come to their senses and establish the “Paul Cassell presumption” : that Mr. Cassell’s involvement in a criminal case inherently violates the defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial.

  2. Mike Paar

    Just curious, do you think that prosecutor Chista Book truly believes that Thomas murdered his son or do you think she took this case to trial to further her career?

  3. Kathleen Casey

    I hope Adrian Thomas gets this behind him has a fulfilling life and a long one. He certainly earned it.

  4. Appellate Squawk

    “Stuff that was not allowable” refers to the fact that everyone in that unspellable county saw the videotaped confession on the TV news during the first trial in 2009. Unless the jurors in the second trial were from another planet, they had to have known about it. But they knew they shouldn’t consider it, so they didn’t. We haven’t been so choked up by a jury verdict since “12 Angry Men.”

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