A new state investigation of Shelby County District Attorney General (SCDAG) Amy Weirich has been opened related to her conduct in a 2005 murder trial, according to the defendant’s family, and they hope his race won’t hinder the investigation.
The family of Vern Braswell, who was convicted for the murder of his wife in 2005, filed a complaint with state officials last month against Weirich and her office on allegations of misconduct in his 2005 trial.
A Facebook page called Justice for Vern Braswell
says an investigation into the matter was opened at the beginning of June. A family member confirmed Friday that the information on the page was correct.
But an official with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (TBPR), the arm of the Tennessee Supreme Court that oversees attorney conduct in the state, could not confirm whether an investigation had been initiated or give any other details.
The Facebook post points out that the TBPR got involved in the cases of Noura Jackson and Michael Rimmer. Weirich got a private reprimand from the TBPR in the Jackson case. ADA Thomas Henderson got a public censure for his conduct in Rimmer case. Jackson and Rimmer are both white.
“We hope and pray that Vern's skin color doesn't preclude us from being successful in our complaint against DAG Weirich,” reads the post. “But if history has taught us anything, we cannot be too hopeful.”
It goes further to point out that Jackson and Rimmer were granted new trials and that the prosecutors faced consequences for their conduct. But that for Braswell, who is African American, no new trial has been granted so far and that no prosecutor has yet faced any consequences.
When asked for a statement on the new complaint, a spokesman in Weirich’s office said her statement from Thursday, in which a new report ranked Weirich’s office first in the state for prosecutorial misconduct, still stands.
“[The report] is a grossly inaccurate and incomplete account of these cases as seen through the eyes of a defense advocacy group,” Weirich said in a statement. “I became a prosecutor to hold the guilty accountable and to protect the innocent in every case, and that is what I have tried to do throughout my career. I will never apologize for trying to seek justice for victims of crime.”
Weirich prosecuted the case against Braswell, a former middle school principal, in 2005 and he was sentenced to 24 years in prison. He appealed the ruling in 2008 but was unsuccessful.
However, a defense attorney and a Shelby County prosecutor reviewing the case in 2011 found a sealed, manila envelope with a sticky note attached that read something close to “do not show to the defense” and Weirich’s initials, according to court testimony. Hiding evidence that could help a defendant’s case in court is illegal.
That envelope went missing. Asked in court about the mysterious envelope in 2014, Weirich said she couldn’t recall such an envelope and that it was not her practice to hide evidence.
That missing envelope is the centerpiece of the Braswell family’s new complaint against Weirich to TBPR. The complaint also claims other evidence helpful to Braswell’s case was withheld from his attorneys and that a key witness for the prosecution was “pressured to testify a certain way.”
The complaint says a TBPR investigation into the case and the SCDAG’s practices “would get to the bottom of this.”
“We believe the the integrity of the D.A.’s evidence files are of paramount importance to society as a whole and the entire criminal justice process as are the safeguards to ensure justice is being achieved in the proceedings that not only determine guilt, but that also clear the innocent,” reads the complaint.
Further, the complaint says case files should be shared before during, and after trials, that SCDAG attorneys should not be able to purge their files of evidence, and that prosecutors, too, should be held accountable “in the process of determining guilt and clearing the innocent.”
The very last sentence of the complaint underscores the hope against racial bias in the case.
“We hope and pray that Vern’s skin color does not stand as a bar to these matters being fully investigated from an unbiased perspective,” the complaint reads.