Issue of innocence: Is Tennessee man wrongly imprisoned for murder?
Adam Braseel is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the death of Malcolm Burrows. His family insists a Grundy County, Tenn., jury convicted him wrongfully.
Becky Hill identified Adam Braseel, bottom center right, from this photo lineup as the man who came to her brother Malcolm Burrows' door the night of Jan. 7, 2006, and lured him to his death. Braseel's supporters say the lineup violated best practices and contains too many photos that don't look like the description of the killer.
Myers handed all the photos to Braden. "I told him that I wanted him to make sure that he had picked out the right photo," Myers testified.
Braden swore he was shown Braseel’s photo first.
“He showed me the first photo and I identified him,” the son testified. “He come up and asked me, yes, ‘Is this the man who done it?’ ”
Experts say that’s one of the worst possible ways to conduct a photo lineup.
“People want to believe the human memory is like a camera, but it’s more like an Etch-A-Sketch,” said Gary Wells, a distinguished professor of psychology at Iowa State University. “Once a witness identifies a suspect, then he becomes their memory. When they think back to the crime, they see his face. Their recollection is tainted, and there’s no way to get that back.”
Hill died in 2011, and Braden couldn’t be reached for comment. A knock at his door in Tracy City drew no answer.
A legal seesaw
Jurors deliberated for a total of about three hours before finding Braseel guilty of first-degree murder.
Eight years later, on Nov. 17, 2015, the gavel tapped for a hearing on his bid for a new trial. A new judge, Justin Angel, presided this time.
Cindy Henley served on the jury that convicted Adam Braseel of first-degree murder in 2007. She says she now believes Braseel to be innocent and that the guilty verdict was a mistake.
“Identification alone is all that ties the petitioner to the crimes,” Angel wrote. Based on “clear and convincing evidence … The petitioner is entitled to a new jury trial.”
Braseel came home from prison on bond. His freedom didn’t last.
Prosecutors appealed the judge’s decision as unfounded. Ten months later, the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed.
“These witnesses had a substantial and prolonged opportunity to observe the offender amid adequate lighting and from close distances,” Judge Timothy Easter wrote.
That decision sent Braseel back to the prison cell where he sits today at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville, Tenn. His latest attorney, Alex Little, hopes to file a petition in federal court by month’s end.
Braseel works in the prison garden, takes part in a ministry and calls home every night. His sister Christina helps lead a social media campaign.
“I try to stay patient, because I can’t just sit here and dwell on it,” Braseel said. “Everybody in Grundy County knows I’m innocent. Why doesn’t the justice system?”
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