By Titan Barksdale
The News & Observer
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — North Carolina prisoner who has maintained his innocence in the double murder of a Fayetteville couple pressed his case to the N.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Lee Wayne Hunt, whose claims were rejected by the N.C. Appeals Court and a lower court, is asking the appeals court to reconsider or for the high court to review the case.
Hunt claims that evidence presented in his trial 21 years ago was faulty, using an analysis of the lead composition in bullets that has since been debunked. What's more, Hunt's co-defendant confessed to being the sole killer -- a confession that remained secret until the man died and his lawyer recently disclosed it.
Disclosure of the confession has raised ethical concerns among lawyers. Durham lawyer Staples Hughes testified that his client, who confessed to acting alone in the 1984 slayings, killed himself in prison three years ago. Hughes said he believed his obligation for silence died with his client.
He signed on as a witness for Hunt, believing his information would help exonerate the prisoner. In 2003, the state Supreme Court ruled in an unrelated case that a judge can force a lawyer to reveal confidential statements from a dead client. That decision was written by I. Beverly Lake Jr., former Chief Justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, who has recently joined Hunt's defense team.
Bolstered by the high court's decision, Hughes decided to help Hunt.
But Hughes' testimony was rejected by the trial judge, who denied Hunt a new trial and vowed to report Hughes to the N.C. State Bar for revealing a client's confidential information.
Hughes is now being investigated by the bar.
Hunt's attorneys, including Rich Rosen, a law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and advocate for prisoners, have encouraged the state Supreme Court to make sure that confidentiality doesn't prevent an attorney from helping prisoners who claim innocence.
"At this point in North Carolina, ... a lawyer who knows from his own client that an innocent man is going to be executed must stand mute, even if his client can suffer no conceivable harm from the lawyer coming forward," the request says. "This cannot be the law in this state."
The only physical evidence connecting Hunt to the crime was a bullet lead analysis conducted by the FBI, which appeared to show that crime-scene bullets matched those in a box that Hunt owned.
Hunt's filing says that bullet lead analysis is scientifically invalid and should not be used as evidence.
Rosen said that the Attorney General's Office will file a response to the request.
The court will then decide whether it will review the case.
Copyright 2007 The News & Observer
FBI's bullet analysis called invalid