On Friday, March 29, 2013, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Kevin Towles’s capital murder conviction and death sentence because the prosecution was improperly allowed to rely on prejudicial and irrelevant evidence to convict him.
Kevin Towles was charged with capital murder after his five-year-old son died of complications from being struck with force on the buttocks.
At trial, the State presented testimony from Mr. Towles’s other son, a teenager, who testified that his father had hit him three years earlier. The prosecutor used this testimony to urge the jury to convict in order to provide “justice” to both of Mr. Towles’s sons. Mr. Towles was convicted and sentenced to death.
EJI lawyers argued on appeal that the evidence of prior child abuse allegations should not have been allowed at trial because it led the jury to believe that Mr. Towles must be guilty of killing his younger son because he had assaulted his older son in the past. Even if there was a limited, valid purpose for this evidence, EJI argued, the trial judge’s instructions failed to limit the jury’s consideration of it.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, ruling that the trial judge’s instructions improperly allowed the jury to consider the testimony for illegal purposes. “Simply stated,” the court wrote, “there was no logical testimony to lead to any inference that Towles, because he had assaulted his son Cameron three years earlier, was motivated to kill Geontae.” The court concluded the jury should not have been allowed to consider the testimony as evidence of motive or for the purpose of establishing Towles’s identity as the killer.
“Given the highly prejudicial nature of collateral acts involving child abuse,” the erroneous jury instructions were plain error. The court reversed Mr. Towles’s conviction and death sentence and remanded for a new trial.