BY FAX: 512-463-1849
June 20, 2002
The Honorable Rick Perry
Governor of the State of Texas
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, TX 78711-2428
Re: Bob Coulson
Dear Governor Perry:
On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, we strongly urge you to stay the execution of Bob Coulson, now scheduled for June 25, 2002. Three compelling reasons underlie this request for clemency: conflicting statements by the Stateís key witness, the lack of forensic evidence linking Mr. Coulson to the crimes, and evidence that the State presented manufactured evidence to the jury. We have grave concerns that a potentially innocent man will be put to death unless the execution is stayed.
First, Mr. Coulsonís conviction rests almost entirely on the confession of Jared Althaus, an alleged accomplice who received a generous plea bargain in exchange for his cooperation with police. Serious questions as to Mr. Althausís credibility existed from the beginning. During interviews with police Mr. Althaus gave several conflicting statements. More troubling is the fact that Mr. Althaus failed a polygraph exam when questioned about the story eventually used against Mr. Coulson at trial. In fact, much of Mr. Althausís testimony at the trial did not match other known facts of the crime. Doubts as to Mr. Althausís credibility continued to mount. The testimony he provided in a later wrongful death action against Mr. Coulson was largely inconsistent with his prior testimony during Mr. Coulsonís criminal trial.
Second, no forensic evidence links Mr. Coulson to the murders. In fact, none of the articles allegedly used to commit the murders could be forensically tied to Mr. Coulson, to the crime, or to any of the victims. When Mr. Coulson spoke with police the day after the murders, officers did not observe any physical markings on him; the type of physical evidence one would expect to find on someone who had committed the crimes for which Mr. Coulson was convicted. No eyewitness, other than Mr. Althaus could place Mr. Coulson at the murder scene or neighborhood that night. Sadly, once Mr. Coulson became the prime suspect, all forensic investigation was geared toward connecting Mr. Coulson, physically, to the crimes. When investigators were unable to do this, they simply stopped looking, thereby preventing the discovery and preservation of physical evidence that could link someone else to these crimes.
Third, the only piece of evidence linking Mr. Coulson to the crime scene is an envelope that contained notations about a prior business deal between Mr. Coulson and his father. At trial the State introduced two photographs showing the envelope lying on top of a desk and apart from any other items. The prosecution stressed that the location of the envelope tended to show that Mr. Coulsonís father expected Mr. Coulson to be at the house to discuss a business deal around the time of the crimes. However, on appeal a federal district court found that the envelope was not on the desk on the night of the crimes, but rather had been placed there by police the following day. Proof that the State manufactured critical evidence calls the fairness of Mr. Coulsonís trial into serious question, yet the courts have been unwilling to grant Mr. Coulson a new trial. Mr. Coulson has exhausted all legal remedies.
The fact that Mr. Coulsonís conviction and sentence were upheld in legal proceedings does not diminish your power or responsibility to consider a grant of clemency. In exercising your power, you should also consider that Mr. Coulson has no prior criminal record, and during sentencing several individuals came forward to confirm Mr. Coulson was of high character and incapable of committing the crimes for which he was convicted. Under Texas law, the death penalty should only be exacted if it is reasonably certain that public safety will be imperiled if the offender is not put to death. Mr. Coulsonís exemplary record of behavior while on death row demonstrates that he is not the continuing threat the jury feared he would be.
This case presents precisely the kind of extreme, exceptional, and unusual miscarriage of justice that only the executive can address or remedy. Texas now has the opportunity, in an act of mercy and grace, to demonstrate that before enforcing this ultimate punishment, it has done everything possible to adequately safeguard the rights of those sentenced to death. We respectfully urge you to grant clemency in this case.
Diann Rust-Tierney William Harrell
ACLU Capital Punishment Project ACLU of Texas
Jeremy W. Dutra*
Squire, Sanders & Dempsey L.L.P.
1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004
* As supervised by James V. Dick, a member of the District of Columbia bar.