innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Court Halts Planned Execution

This article appeared on the WashingtonPost.com on November 14, 2006:

Court Halts Planned Execution in Texas

By MICHAEL GRACZYK
The Associated Press
LIVINGSTON, Texas -- A condemned inmate set to die this week for slaying a convenience store owner in 1997 won a reprieve from the state's highest criminal court, which ordered a hearing on his claim of prosecutor misconduct.

Charles Anthony Nealy, 42, had faced lethal injection Thursday evening. Defense lawyers argued the Dallas man was innocent and that a nephew of Nealy testified against him because of pressure from prosecutors.

In this photo released by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, death row inmate Charles Nealy is shown. Nealy has won a reprieve, halting his execution scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006. Nealy, 42, faced lethal injection for the 1997 slaying of a Dallas convenience store owner, one of two men gunned down during a robbery of the store. A state appeals court delayed the execution after a witness from his 1998 capital murder trial recanted his testimony and said a prosecutor had pressured and intimidated him before the trial.

The postponement by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, issued late Monday, leaves the execution tally for 2006 in the nation's busiest capital punishment state at 24, about average for Texas over the past decade. No other executions are scheduled until early next year.

Store owner Jiten Bhakta, 25, was robbed and killed by a shotgun at his Expressway Mart just south of downtown Dallas. Also killed was an employee, Vijay Patel, 25, who was shot by another man.

Bhakta's brother, also at the store, identified the man with the shotgun as Charles Nealy, and his nephew Claude Nealy as the second gunman. Claude Nealy received a life sentence for Patel's slaying.

In its ruling, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied the actual innocence claim but ordered the state district court in Dallas to hold a hearing on the claim of prosecutor misconduct.

The robbery, but not the shootings, was recorded on a poor quality surveillance tape that made it difficult to positively identify the gunmen. Memphis Nealy, Claude's brother, had identified his brother and uncle as the robbers but he later recanted and said prosecutors bullied him.

"That's absurd," George West, a former Dallas County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, told The Dallas Morning News. "He's trying to help his uncle."

Charles Nealy said recently from death row at a prison outside Livingston that he was in Oklahoma at the time.

The robbers fled with about $4,000 in a briefcase, some other cash from the register, a bottle of wine and some cold beer.

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