Last Tuesday, August 27th 2013, Chris Perri argued to a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on why his client Colton Pitonyak deserves a new trial. This notorious case has received expansive media attention, and for good reason.
For the past four years, Chris Perri fought for the case to be reexamined due to an alleged Brady violation. For further background on the case, please view one of our older, informative blog posts here.
Intrigue and mystery have laced this case from the inception. Many have speculated who actually murdered and mutilated Jennifer Cave’s body. Though Colton Pitonyak was convicted of her murder, evidence withheld by the prosecution team points to Laura Hall as the actual killer.
Capturing the attention of the 5th Circuit, Chris stated that while in the Travis County Jail, Laura Hall confessed to two other inmates that she committed the murder. These inmates then told a counselor, who recorded the information in Hall’s electronic jail file. Chris argued that had this information been made available to the defense, Pitonyak’s trial strategy would have been entirely different and most likely led to a not guilty verdict.
The learned judges grilled Chris about whether any prior Supreme Court case had established a duty on the part of a mental-health counselor to disclose such exculpatory evidence to the prosecution team (and, thus, ultimately the defense attorneys). While conceding that there was no such case, Chris persuasively argued that based on the Supreme Court’s Kyles v. Whitley case, the actual prosecutors had a duty to search Hall’s jail file due to the reasonable foreseeability of exculpatory evidence within that file. After all, the prosecutors knew that Hall was talking to other inmates, including a cell mate who ended up being the prosecution’s star witness at Hall’s trial on Tampering with Evidence. By turning a blind eye to the contents of Hall’s jail file, the prosecutors committed a Brady violation.
Furthermore, even if the prosecutors had been blocked from accessing medical information within Hall’s jail file, they had a duty to obtain a court order or subpoena because the right to a fair trial trumps medical privacy laws. The State’s attorney countered that a subpoena for this information had been quashed, but Chris pointed out that this argument was disingenuous because it was Pitonyak who filed the subpoena while investigating the Brady claim in 2009. The State, with the prosecutors’ blessing, actually quashed the subpoena in order to hinder Pitonyak’s ability to develop the claim.
The 5th Circuit should issue a ruling in the next month or two, though they have no official deadline.
See below to read a few noteworthy news articles and videos with Chris Perri featured: