death penalty news—-TEXAS

Nov. 24

TEXAS:

Survivors relieve fatal Tarrant bombing every Thanksgiving

The week of Thanksgiving always brings pain for Susan Blount and Lynne
Wright. But this one with an old capital murder case newly hanging in the
balance could be even tougher than usual.

On Thanksgiving Day 1985, near Fort Worth, a bomb killed Mrs. Blount's
husband and daughter and Mrs. Wright's son.

This year, anger and frustration compound their grief. Michael Roy Toney,
who was convicted of the murders and who has repeatedly declared he was
framed stands a good chance of having his conviction overturned.

The Tarrant County district attorney's office said last month that it
violated Mr. Toney's constitutional rights when it withheld exculpatory
evidence from his lawyers before trial. Prosecutors filed a joint motion
with Mr. Toney's appellate attorneys urging that he be granted a new
trial.

A decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is expected within
weeks.

"They're dragging it all up again," Mrs. Blount, 63, said from her home in
the Pacific Northwest. "It's never going to go away."

From Texas' death row, Mr. Toney said he awaits vindication.

"Our fight is not over, but we have taken the hill," he wrote in a recent
message to supporters. "Now we must fight the final battle, and through
prayer, resources, truth, determination, dedication and hard work, we will
prevail."

Such talk infuriates Mrs. Wright, 61, who is Mrs. Blount's sister. Her
son, Michael Columbus, was 18 and studying to be a pilot when the blast
killed him. She and the family still firmly believe Mr. Toney was the
bomber.

"He hasn't begun to pay for this horrible crime," she wrote in a family
response to the district attorney's admissions. "Their bodies burned
beyond recognition that Thanksgiving Day. … The huge hole in our hearts
will never heal."

A bomb in a briefcase

A briefcase containing the bomb was left on the steps of the Blount family
trailer at the Hilltop Mobile Home Park, near Lake Worth. Angela Blount,
15, and her brother, Robert, 14, carried it inside. Angela opened the
briefcase. The blast killed her and her father, Joe Blount, along with Mr.
Columbus. Robert was blown from the trailer, alive but so badly burned his
shoes melted to his feet.

Police ultimately came to believe the bomb had been meant for someone else
and had been put at the Blount home by accident. The case remained open
until 1997, when Mr. Toney was charged.

In jail on an unrelated charge, Mr. Toney had told another inmate about
the bombing, and the inmate informed police. Mr. Toney and the inmate
later said it was only a ruse to get the inmate out of jail.

While no physical evidence connected him to the crime, prosecutors relied
on his best friend and his ex-wife, who testified Mr. Toney had a
briefcase near the mobile home park the night of the murders.

Mr. Toney says he had been in the area fishing earlier, but not the night
of the bombing. The witnesses did not get a good enough look at the
briefcase to make it a solid match with the one that held the bomb.

Mr. Toney was convicted in 1999 and sentenced to death.

But the best friend, Chris Meeks, was a heavy drinker who later recanted,
and then reaffirmed his testimony. The ex-wife, Kim Toney Ninham, has
admitted having memory loss caused by exposure to toxic chemicals during
military service in the Persian Gulf War.

Mr. Toney's appellate lawyers discovered that prosecutors failed to give
Mr. Toney's original defense attorneys at least 14 key investigative
documents.

One of the documents revealed that Mr. Meeks told police he had once
intended to murder Mr. Toney. Another showed that Ms. Toney Ninham
initially did not recall Mr. Toney carrying a briefcase on the night of
the bombing. Only after an investigator "employed a cognitive interviewing
technique" three days later did she remember the briefcase.

Mr. Toney's lawyers contend that this technique amounted to planting the
idea of a briefcase in the mind of Ms. Toney Ninham.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors must reveal any
exculpatory evidence to the defense.

The lead prosecutor in the Toney case, Mike Parrish, has retired. Mr.
Parrish did not respond to phone messages requesting comment.

But in a May 2008 deposition he said repeatedly he could not remember if
he gave Mr. Toney's defense lawyers copies of the documents in question.

Alan Levy, head of the criminal division for the Tarrant County district
attorney, said he does not know if the omission was deliberate or
accidental.

"It's really not clear what the reasons were," he said.

Family feels in the dark

Mrs. Blount said the mishandling of the case angers her.

Before the 1999 trial, she said, "I looked at Mike Parrish and everyone
else who sat at that table, and I said, 'I want this done the right way,
because I can't see myself going through this again.' "

Robert Blount said the district attorney's office has done little to keep
the family informed.

"They're basically brushing us off like nothing happened," he said.

Mr. Toney, 42, keeps a steady correspondence with supporters, who update
his myspace.com page and distribute his remarks via e-mail.

"I am in no way whatsoever responsible for what someone did to the Blount
family," Mr. Toney wrote recently. "But in their minds all they know is
someone needs to pay for what was done. I agree, someone does need to, but
it must be the person or persons responsible."

Mr. Toney has acknowledged a history of drug use and property crimes. In
addition, numerous former girlfriends and his ex-wife testified at his
trial that he beat them badly.

But the man who once attempted to auction off witness seats to his own
execution now is raising money for his possible new trial, referring
contributors to his PayPal account. "Please, I am urging, no, begging all
of you to pull together while we still have the time," he wrote.

And of the possibility of a new trial, he recently wrote, "I expect them
to use every dirty trick in the book and even create some new tricks."

Mr. Levy said the Tarrant district attorney's office has not determined
whether it will retry Mr. Toney if his conviction is overturned.

"There's going to have to be an extensive review of that file," he said.
"The district attorney himself will have to make that decision, so it's
going to take some time."

If the district attorney chooses not to try Mr. Toney again, he could walk
free after nearly 10 years on death row.

Mrs. Blount said the thought of Mr. Toney being released from prison
initially frightened her, and she asked that her city and state of
residence not be published. Mr. Toney has spoken, in the past, of wanting
to meet with the Blounts, to explain his case to them.

Robert Blount, 37, whose hands still show burn scars from the bomb, isn't
interested in talking.

"All I can say is, let him come to my house," he said. "I'll drag him
inside and I'll beat him within an inch of his life."

(source: Dallas Morning News)