The Mobile County Circuit Court ordered a new trial for George Martin, a former Alabama State Trooper who has spent more than 13 years on death row after being convicted of killing his wife.
Hammoleketh Martin died in a car fire in Mobile County on October 8, 1995. Mr. Martin maintained his innocence and the district attorney’s office did not file charges. Four years later, after Mr. Martin sued law enforcement authorities for defamation, the attorney general’s office charged Mr. Martin with capital murder, alleging that he killed his wife in order to collect insurance money.
The prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence to obtain a conviction on May 10, 2000. Mr. Martin was tried during an election year in front of Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Ferrill McRae, who ran a TV ad in support of his re-election campaign listing the names of convicted murderers whom McRae had sentenced to death, including “State Trooper Martin, Murdered and Burned Wife.” When the ad ran, the jury had convicted Mr. Martin but voted to spare his life. Judge McRae had not yet rendered his decision, although the ad announced that he would give Mr. Martin death. He then overrode the jury’s sentence and imposed the death penalty on July 25, 2000.
After Alabama’s appellate courts denied relief on appeal, new attorneys challenged George Martin’s conviction and presented evidence from 28 witnesses and 104 exhibits during an evidentiary hearing in 2012 before a new judge. Based on the evidence presented, the court concluded that the State violated the law when it failed to disclose to Mr. Martin’s trial counsel multiple pieces of evidence that were favorable to the defense.
The State’s only evidence placing Mr. Martin in the vicinity where the car fire occurred on the night of Mrs. Martin’s death was a single witness’s testimony that he saw a Black man in an Alabama State Trooper uniform in the area earlier that evening, but the State suppressed evidence that the witness could not identify Mr. Martin as the trooper he saw that night and that he actually identified another state trooper in a photo array that was not disclosed to the defense.
The defense argued at trial that Mrs. Martin carried a gas can in her car and the fire was the result of an accident. The prosecutor told the jury at trial that there was no gas can found in the car and that none of Mrs. Martin’s friends or family had seen her carry a gas can in her car, but notes that were not given to the defense showed that Mrs. Martin’s own sister told police she saw a gas can in her sister’s car.
The State also illegally suppressed evidence that pointed to other suspects in Mrs. Martin’s death, the court found.
The court concluded that “[t]his accumulation of errors caused ‘a breakdown in the adversarial process that our system counts on to produce just results,'” and ordered a new trial.
The State has filed a notice of appeal.