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Name: Whelchel v. State of Washington
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 11/29/2000
Subsequent History: None

The district court’s issuance of habeas relief was affirmed in a first degree murder prosecution where tape-recorded statements made by a pair of unavailable co-defendants implicating Whelchel had been admitted at trial. A principal part of the prosecution’s case against Whelchel were the taped statements, which had been given to Sheriff’s officers. The Washington Supreme Court found the admission of the statements to be harmless error because of the overwhelming untainted evidence of guilt presented at trial. The appellate court here agreed that the statements did not meet the requirement of trustworthiness. The statements made by the co-defendants attempting to exonerate themselves were textbook cases of statements that are presumptively unreliable. Further, they were not taken under oath or subject to cross-examination. The district court also correctly held that the confrontation clause error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the jury. While corroborative evidence may make the wrongful introduction of other evidence harmless, this concept has no application where, as here, there was a reason for the jury to doubt the eyewitness testimony, the third party testimony was not exceptionally strong, and the physical evidence was limited and explained by the defendant’s claimed role of accessory after the fact.