A former Evansville police officer serving an 80-year sentence for murder and arson has asked the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn his conviction and order a new trial.
Glenn Bradford was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to the maximum for the death of Tamara Lohr with whom he had been having an extramarital affair. His conviction has been upheld by the Indiana Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In filing a petition for a writ of certiorari, Bradford argued the case will enable the Supreme Court to clarify how far appellate judges can wander outside the official record and to settle the question of whether a free-standing actual innocence claims exists under federal habeas corpus law.
The case is Glenn Patrick Bradford v. Richard Brown, superintendent, 15-3706. Bradford’s counsel of record is Ronald Safer of Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP in Chicago.
The 7th Circuit panel split on affirming the denial of Bradford’s request for a new trial. Judge David Hamilton dissented, criticizing the majority for basing its decision on its own research and analysis.
Bradford successfully petitioned the 7th Circuit for a rehearing en banc. However, one of the judges voting on Bradford’s petition discovered a conflict and had to recuse herself, which tipped the vote back in favor of denying the habeas corpus relief.
The state’s case hinged on a very tight timeline. Prosecutors contended Bradford murdered Lohr by stabbing her 21 times between 11:06 p.m. and 12:10 a.m. He then returned to working his overnight shift before driving back to her house at 6:35 a.m. Within 65 seconds, prosecutors said, Bradford pulled up to the residence, parked, stabbed her dog and set the fire which burned for eight minutes, causing significant damage before firefighters arrived.
In the 7th Circuit ruling written by Judge Richard Posner, the majority maintained that Bradford’s expert’s testimony was undermined by errors and supported its findings by citing studies not referenced by either the prosecutors or the defendant.
Bradford characterized the majority’s action as the “worst form of independent appellate factfinding.” He asserted the majority reached its decision through its own independent, and, in some instances, erroneous research rather than by reviewing the record evidence that was developed through the adversarial system.
“Nothing in the record, however, supports the majority’s conclusions,” Bradford argued in his Supreme Court petition. “Instead, the majority’s decision rests on articles, uncited by any party at any stage of the litigation and thus never tested through the crucible of cross-examination, concerning differences in temperatures between ceiling and floors in ‘a normal room’ and carbon monoxide inhalation by dogs.”
Bradford described his case as falling “squarely within a deep and fractured split over if, when, and how appellate courts can use non-record evidence and engage in independent analysis to determine key factual issues.”
He noted the 7th Circuit follows a limited research approach similar to the 1st, 5th and 6th circuits.
In Brown v. Watters, 599 F.3d 602, 604 n.1 (7th Cir. 2010), the Chicago court noted it generally declined to supplement the record but had not adhered to this practice in every circumstance.
Also, Bradford noted the circuit courts need guidance in resolving the question of whether actual innocence can serve as a basis for habeas relief. He contends the Supreme Court has assumed without deciding that such a claim exists but the appellate courts have struck out on their own and come to greatly differing conclusions. As a result, petitioners are getting different results based solely on their geography.
Bradford maintained the key evidence points to his actual innocence. The scenario of the crime laid out by the prosecutor does not give him enough time to do what he is accused of doing and scientific evidence shows the fire burned for at least 30 minutes.
“No matter the source, each piece of evidence leads to the same conclusion: Bradford is innocent,” the petition said. “This Court must decide whether innocence matters in federal habeas proceedings.’
Bradford also argued a third point to the Supreme Court that his conviction should be overturned because he received ineffective counsel. His trial attorney selected an expert who was not qualified to testify as to how long the fire burned and the fire’s effect on Lohr’s dog.
In his conclusion, Bradford highlighted Hamilton’s belief that Bradford is “almost certainly innocent” and the judge’s own call for the Supreme Court to review.
“This case comes before the Court uniquely postured and ripe for review,” Bradford’s petition read, “and without this Court’s intervention, an innocent man will die in prison while serving a de facto life sentence.”