The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals on December 14 unanimously reversed Lameco Turner’s capital murder conviction and death sentence because the Houston County District Attorney used illegal hearsay evidence to convict him.
Lameco Turner was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2004 shooting of a clerk at a Dothan convenience store during a robbery. Mr. Turner told police that he went to the convenience store with two other men to rob it and while he was holding a pistol, he accidentally fired it, hitting the clerk in the lower abdomen, and then ran out of the store. The defense argued at trial that Mr. Turner was not guilty of capital murder because he did not intend to shoot and kill the clerk.
The State admitted into evidence a recording of Mr. Turner’s police interrogation, during which police officers stated that Mr. Turner’s two accomplices told the police that Mr. Turner intended to shoot the clerk. One of the interrogating officers also testified that the police “knew [that the shooting] wasn’t an accident from [the accomplices’] statement[s].” In closing argument to the jury, the prosecutor used the accomplices’ statements to show that Mr. Turner intended to shoot the clerk.
On appeal, EJI argued that the State’s use of the accomplices’s out-of-court statements to law enforcement was inadmissible hearsay evidence that violated Mr. Turner’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him.
The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, finding that the State’s use of the accomplices’ statements during closing argument was illegal hearsay and was plain error because the illegal evidence had “an unfair prejudicial impact on the jury’s deliberations.” Because it was “the most damning evidence the State presented to show that Turner intended to kill,” “struck at the heart of Turner’s only defense and undoubtedly impacted the jury’s deliberations,” the court reversed Mr. Turner’s conviction and death sentence.