On Monday, Debra Brown was found factually innocent of the murder of her boss and friend, Lael Brown, which occurred on Saturday, November 6, 1993. Debra Brown was the first person to discover the body, and had a key to the victim’s house. She was convicted in 1995, based on circumstantial evidence, according to the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, who represented her for her current appeals.
In 2008, Utah passed a law that allows petitioners to bring innocence claims based on new, non-DNA evidence. Brown’s lawyers took action, and her case was the first to be filed under this new statute. Judge Michael DiReda ruled that Ms. Brown was factually innocent because the victim died at a time when Ms. Brown could not have killed him.
The new evidence in Brown’s case established that the victim was seen alive the evening of Saturday, November 6th, and therefore he could not have been killed early that morning as prosecutors argued at Brown’s trial. Brown had a solid alibi from 10 a.m. on Saturday to Sunday morning.
The witnesses who established that the victim was alive Saturday night were not known to the defense at trial, though they were known to the police. Additionally, the medical examiner’s original report (also not known to the defense at the time of trial) determined that the time of death was late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. This report was inconsistent with the medical examiner’s testimony at trial, during which he changed the time of death to fit the prosecution’s case. In addition, the prosecution’s key witness had been manipulated into falsifying her testimony to fit with the theory that Lael Brown had been killed that Saturday.
Under Utah law, the state is now permitted five days to appeal. If no appeal is filed by May 7, Brown will have her record expunged and be automatically compensated $32,000 for every year she’s spent in prison.
Congratulations to Debra Brown and to the RMIC on this precedent-setting victory!