Call Today for a FREE Consultation

262-923-8761

24 HOUR EMERGENCY CONTACT

Alabama DA reviews death penalty case, finds obvious problems

| Apr 12, 2021 | Wrongful Convictions

District attorneys around the U.S. are reviewing past convictions for evidence that they were wrongful. Unfortunately, there are many situations that can lead to wrongful convictions.

Recently, the DA for Jefferson County, Alabama, reviewed Toforest Johnson’s conviction and decided he deserves a new trial. Toforest was convicted in 1998 of killing a sheriff’s deputy and was sentenced to death. He has always maintained his innocence, and things look hopeful for his case.

Toforest’s case was high-profile. There were no witnesses and few clues to be had. The state of Alabama offered $5,000 for information that would lead to an arrest and conviction. That reward led to a tip from a teenager who fingered Toforest.

Later, that teenager admitted she was motivated by the reward money. She changed her story dozens of times, according to NPR.

Toforest wouldn’t have even been a suspect if it weren’t for that teenager’s lie. He would not have been convicted if not for a jailhouse informant who claimed to have overheard someone named Toforest admitting he had shot a deputy.

In Toforest’s first trial, defense witnesses established an alibi and there was a hung jury. Also, the prosecution changed its theory of the case several times. It was only in his second trial that the jailhouse informant testified, and in that second trial, Toforest’s court-appointed attorney failed to call the alibi witnesses.

Moreover, the prosecution never revealed that the jailhouse informant received the $5,000 reward.

“There was no evidence pointing to him in the first place,” says Toforest’s daughter. “It really opened my eyes to the fact that, unfortunately, the justice system is not equal.”

Former prosecutors, judges submit friend-of-the-court brief

It’s not just Toforest’s family and the Jefferson County DA who question the conviction. Former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley, a death penalty proponent, looked into the case and was stunned by the lack of evidence. He calls letting the case stand “unconscionable.”

He and other former federal and state prosecutors submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the appeals court hearing Toforest’s case.

Several former judges, including two former chief justices of the Alabama Supreme Court, also filed a brief. They called the case a “reprehensible miscarriage of justice that may otherwise lead to the execution of a likely innocent man.”

Other briefs were submitted by legal scholars, faith-based groups, public defenders and the criminal defense bar.

Nevertheless, Alabama’s attorney general is fighting to keep Toforest on death row.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, at least 2,768 people have been exonerated since 1989. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, 185 people have been exonerated from death row since 1973 – nine from Alabama alone.

Archives

“I just want to say thank you for the outstanding work you have done for him and let you know how much we appreciate the time and attention you gave to his case. We are obviously overjoyed by today’s dismissal!” (Child pornography case dismissed after motion to suppress was granted)”

“After having had time to exhale, we thank each one of you and all the others who contributed to the exemplary Supreme Court presentation. We are proud of your efforts on our behalf and, equally important, on behalf of the many present and future defendants statewide.” (Client’s comment after Supreme Court oral argument)

“Thank you. Thank you. I am so pleased to hear that we won. It doesn’t seem that it was even a close call. I appreciate your efforts.” (Oconto County defendant after Buting, Williams & Stilling got his prison sentence overturned in the court of appeals) ”

“Your time and advice was appreciated more than words can express at a time when we really needed someone to guide us.” (Client)

“The outcome was amazing, one unavailable even under identical circumstances in probably 98 percent of federal courtrooms around the country. Separate and apart from the outcome, though, I am supremely impressed by your efforts on your client’s behalf. Your comments in support of the requested sentence were perfect in tone and, having now reviewed the extensive sentencing memorandum you filed, your work in that regard was exemplary as well. Your client was certainly fortunate to have you as his attorney.” (Local federal court attorney present at a sentencing)

“I can’t thank you enough, not only for all of the tireless work that you and your staff put into my case, but for telling me what I needed to hear, at a time when I absolutely had to hear it. I consider myself blessed for everything turning out the way it did, especially since I blindly picked you out of a phone book! You helped me, my family and friends in many more ways than the money ever could.” (Child pornography client)

“I think you will find that in any circles where Kathy’s name is raised, people will always respond positively and identify her as an extremely hardworking, knowledgeable and ethical lawyer who is timely and effective with any endeavor she takes on. These circles would include colleagues, friends, prosecutors, judges, professors and others who have crossed paths with Kathy. They would also include the many lawyers like me who have referred numerous cases to Kathy, invariably with positive feedback from the clients regarding her knowledge of their case, empathy, professionalism and fair-mindedness in addressing their concerns.” (Fellow attorney)

“Thank you for giving [our son] back to us. Wonderful work!” (Family of client accused of armed robbery after charges were dismissed)

“Yes, His perfect time and perfect place, you were a part of this plan. I almost didn’t hire you, but I took a step of faith trusting Him and look what happened? Praise God. Our Lord put you in your vocation for a reason, continue to help those He brings your way. May He bless you in ALL you do!” (Client who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in a northwestern Wisconsin county. He was released from prison after attorneys got his conviction reversed.)

“I really cannot thank you enough for your past help. You really know your stuff. It is actually funny when I think about my other past attorney’s knowledge and then when I talk with you. It’s like night and day. You’re like a walking book of knowledge with a purpose-driven life. Thanks.” (Brown County client of attorney Buting)

“A year later and I still believe your defense is the single best example of lawyering I have ever seen.” (Television reporter commenting on attorney Buting’s defense of Steven Avery)

“You have a certain brilliance that makes me sure that when you talk, it is good information and I am in good hands. You tell it to me like it is even when the things you say are not always the things that I would like to hear. You keep it REAL!!!” (Brown County client)

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel like this was one of the biggest blessings that happened in my life. I put this along with my children being born healthy and when I survived that horrific shooting. I appreciate everything you have done for me. I couldn’t ask for better lawyers. I want to say thank you to everybody at your firm. I owe you more than the fee you so rightfully deserve. … You gave me back hope. Thank you, man! Out of my 36 years … I have never seen such kindness before. I don’t know what I did to deserve this; I’m very thankful nonetheless. Thank you for giving me hope again. Thank you for your generosity. There are still some really good people around.” (Federal criminal appeal client)

“There is no other attorney I’ve ever even heard of I’d rather have as chief counsel and leader of my defense/appeals than Jerome Buting. You’re the best. Period.” (Dane County client)

“Your advice and counsel were greatly appreciated. We appreciate you taking the time on your Sunday and evenings to help us. We are SO happy about the results! Thanks again.” (Waukesha County client)

“Thank you again … for everything. Five and one-half years of commitment, so many ups and downs and an outcome like that. You did a GREAT job.” (Waukesha County felony drug offense client)