I was recently contacted by an individual concerning the case of Paul Cortez. Paul was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and is serving a 25 years to life sentence. The individual who contacted me has setup a website/blog to help raise funds for his appeal. Paul’s supporters claim that he was wrongfully convicted.
My first thought was that maybe this was the type of story I’ve been looking for. I’ve been looking for another book project. Truth is, finding a story worthy of a full length book treatment, that hasn’t already been told, is a difficult task. And as I investigated further, I discovered that this particular story had, in fact, been covered already by 48 Hours along with a book. So much for my book plans.
But what about Paul’s case? Is this a case of wrongful conviction? The fact that there are supporters, who have no connection to Paul, who are willing to donate their own time and money in his defense, lends some credibility to the claim of innocence. But what about the facts?
The website lays out the case with plenty of details. And the 48 hours episode, Death of a Dream can be found on Youtube in six parts. Click hereto view Part 1. After spending just a couple of hours on the website and watching the 48 Hours episode, it certainly looks like a case of wrongful conviction. One of the most glaring problems I see is the lack of DNA testing that was not done either by the police or the defense. I got the impression that this evidence is still in existence. If so, what’s the problem?
Paul’s conviction was based almost exclusively on two bits of circumstantial evidence: Phone records that indicate that he was in the area around the time of the murder. (Paul lived in worked in the neighborhood.) And testimony from an individual that claimed to have seen Paul immediately after the murder wearing boots that matched footprints found at the scene. Problem is, 48 hours interviewed this same witness before the trial and he claimed that he had no idea what he was wearing. Think about it. If you’re having lunch with a friend, could you testify months later what type of shoes he was wearing fourteen months earlier?
In the 48 Hours episode, a number of jurors were interviewed. From the interview it appears that they made their decision based mostly on a grainy security video of Paul taken a few hours before the murder. The defense supplied the video to prove that he wasn’t wearing the type of boots that left a footprint at the scene. The juror’s, however, came to the conclusion that he was wearing boots. I don’t have a problem with jurors looking at a case that closely. In fact, I think it’s good that they took that extra step. But they made a decision based solely on their own interpretation of what they saw. I looked at the video and I couldn’t tell whether he was wearing boots or the shoes he claims he was wearing. Seems to me that jurors shouldn’t be playing detective when a man’s life is in question. If they were really concerned about what they were seeing, maybe they should have requested a review by an expert. Of course, that probably would not have been allowed since the defense attorney’s didn’t take that step.
So there it is. You can view the website and videos and make up your own mind. In the mean time, I’ll keep looking for my next book project.