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Sixth Amendment right trumps dead woman's letter accusing husband

A Wisconsin judge ruled that a man was not correctly tried when he was convicted of killing his wife on the strength of a letter she wrote to a neighbor. The widower was sent to prison for life in 2008 for the poisoning homicide, which seemed to be the fate his wife was expressing fear about in the letter claiming that her husband wanted her dead. That implication led to his being taken into custody on murder charges in 2002, four years after the woman died. In the most recent action, the judge vacated that trial result because the man had no opportunity to confront his accuser.

After the man's wife died in 1998, a legal debate raged over whether the dead woman's letter and statements made to people other than the neighbor were permissible for use in his trial. The argument against their use was that it possibly violated his Sixth Amendment right to face the person accusing him of a crime, in this case his late wife. The judge in the 2008 trial ruled that the woman's statements were permissible, and they became the key pieces of evidence against the husband.

In December 2013, however, a Milwaukee federal judge contradicted that ruling, saying that the murder case was not one in which the husband's rights under the Sixth Amendment right could be disregarded. Prosecutors in the case would have 90 days to take action, either an appeal of the new judge's decision or a new trial for the accused man. If neither action was taken, the man would be released from prison.

Accusations of committing violent crimes such as homicide require a vigorous criminal defense. Serious criminal charges like murder can bring life in prison or even the death penalty, so those accused should consult an experienced attorney.

Source: ABC News, "Wis. Man's Conviction in Wife's Death Overturned", Diensh Ramde, December 19, 2013

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