The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered an evidentiary hearing for Johnny Street Parker.
Parker was sent to death row in 1997 for the murder of James William Buchanan, the murder of Jerry Lee Dowdy, and the castration of Mr. Dowdy. The State asserted at trial that Parker had committed both murders and the castration alone. Only after Parker was convicted and sentenced to die did two police reports come to light, showing that not only did Parker not act alone, but that he neither killed nor castrated Mr. Dowdy. In legal terms, this failure to turn over material evidence is referred to as a Brady violation.
Parker presented this evidence earlier in his appeals to the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. That judge granted an evidentiary hearing, but arbitrarily limited the hearing to two hours. This meant that Parker only had time to fully question one witness, and was therefore unable to present all of the testimony he needed to support his claim. Furthermore, the Court refused to consider a summary Parker offered of the other evidence he would have presented. The Court ruled against Parker based on the limited evidence before it.
Because the district court refused to consider evidence that was “unquestionably…relevant to the question of whether the result of either the guilt or sentencing phase of the trial would have been different,” the 4th Circuit was unable to conduct meaningful appellate review of the Brady claim. The 4th Circuit remanded the case back to district court for a full hearing. Its order is available here.