Death Row Inmate Cleared of Murder


Washington—After 22 years on death row, and just a month before his scheduled execution, Paul House is walking free.

House, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1986 for the rape and murder of Carolyn Muncey, was released on bail last year while the Supreme Court debated his case. He was still scheduled to be executed in June, however, until earlier this week when state prosecutors requested that all charged be dropped against him. Special Judge Jon Blackwood accepted the request.

The Supreme Court had stepped into the case in 2006, ruling that the inmate was entitled to a new hearing due to subsequent DNA evidence and other evidence that would have introduced substantial doubt, had it been introduced during House’s first hearing.

House, who was a friend of Muncey’s husband, had always denied any responsibility in the rape and murder. Although he had offered an alibi, claiming that he was in his own home at the time of the murder, it was later found that he had left his home, returning later with cuts and bruises that he could not account for. House later admitted to having lied about his whereabouts.

House’s blood was found on Muncey’s jeans , but there were doubts later cast on upon the case due to possible contamination of evidentiary samples during transport to an FBI lab. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-3 opinion, said that jurors might have seen these doubts as reason enough not to convict House during his first trial..

Semen, other blood samples, and DNA evidence from cigarette butts found on the crime scene did not match House, and would have pointed to another suspect.

Prosecutors maintain that House is guilty, and that another jury trial would convict him again, although admitting that the new evidence might point to an accomplice in the case. They also felt that the “substantial sentence” which House has already served, in conjunction with the doubts cast upon their case by the new DNA evidence, was adequate to justify his release and the dropping of all charges.

House, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair, was aided by the Innocence Project, an organization which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law and which aims to exonerate the wrongly convicted.


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