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Name: Shelton v. Marshall
Case #: 13-15707
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 08/07/2015

Prosecution’s failure to disclose secret deal with testifying accomplice results in reversal of murder conviction for Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83 violation. In 1981, Shelton and his two cohorts kidnapped and murder a young couple who were on their way to college. Shelton was convicted of the first degree murder of the young man, Thorpe, and the second degree murder of the young woman, Craig, and other charges. One of the prosecution’s key witnesses was one of Shelton’s accomplices, Thomas. Shelton later learned that Thomas’ attorney, who felt that Thomas was not competent to assist in his own defense and possibly insane, had approached the prosecutor prior to Shelton’s trial regarding a deal. The prosecutor, who knew that a psychiatric examination of Thomas would “supply ammunition to the defense,” agreed to drop murder charges against Thomas if he testified against Shelton and another accomplice, and did not have a psychiatric examination. This deal was not disclosed to Shelton’s attorney. Shelton sought state and federal relief on a Brady claim. Held: First degree murder conviction reversed. There are three elements of a Brady claim: (1) the evidence is favorable to the defendant, either because it is exculpatory or impeaching; (2) the evidence was willfully or inadvertently suppressed by the State; and (3) prejudice ensued. The State court denied Shelton’s petition, finding it hard to conclude that anything favorable to him was suppressed. But “evidence that the prosecution believed Thomas to be incompetent was powerful fodder for impeaching his testimony against Shelton.” Under clearly established Supreme Court precedent, Shelton satisfied the first element of Brady because the evidence was favorable. It also was not disclosed. Prejudice ensued because Thomas’ testimony was the only direct evidence that Shelton premeditated and deliberated Thorpe’s murder. “The prosecutor’s own conduct in keeping the deal secret underscores the deal’s importance.”