The Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was faced yesterday “with a real-life murder mystery, an authentic ‘who-done-it’ where the wrong man may be executed,” wrote Judge Ronald Gilman, says the New York Times. Eight of the court’s 15 judges said the defendant, Paul House, should be executed. With Judge Gilman alone saying that House deserves a new trial, the vote was 8 to 7. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes or House dies first from multiple sclerosis, he will be executed.
The decision, which turned on sharply divergent interpretations of the same evidence where a man’s life is at stake, was “unprecedented,” said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University. “A case in which six judges find that the defendant didn’t do the crime is more than just a legal curiosity. In any rational legal universe, there is now at least reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt.” House was convicted of murdering a Tennessee neighbor in 1985. The prosecution argued that he had first raped her, saying that semen found on her clothing matched his blood type. DNA testing, which was not available at the time, has proved that the semen was that of the woman’s husband, who was implicated by evidence in a recent hearing. The court majority discounted that evidence.