“I want you to understand I speak the truth when I say I didn’t kill your kids, anyone. Honestly, I have not killed anyone. I wish you could get the rage from your hearts and you could see the truth and get rid of the hatred.” – David Wayne Spence’s last words before his execution
Austin – David Wayne Spence died in the execution chamber protesting his innocence in April, 1997 for the July 1982 murder of three teens at Lake Waco. New evidence may give him a chance to speak from the grave.
A first-ever test of new law allowing further appeal of the conviction and death sentence is pending in an Austin Civil District Court alleging the wrongful death of he and his two-co-defendants, Anthony and Gilbert Melendez, both of whom died behind bars after pleading guilty in return for life sentences prosecutors allegedly promised would last no more than 10 years.
The McLennan County Criminal District Attorney’s office is due to answer the lawsuit within days since its filing on April 19. If not, the judge will be obliged to enter a default judgment for the plaintiffs.
The Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Request for Disclosure stems from the Legislature’s 2013 amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure and a change by the Court of Criminal Appeals to an appellate procedural rule governing applications for writs of habeas corpus.
The two are designed to allow post conviction relief for persons convicted before new methods of determining scientific evidence had been discovered. According to two lawyers who deal with these matters for the Tarrant County DA’s office, the changes came during what is known as “the year of the writ apocalypse” – 2013.
Among the chief allegations of complaint of the suit are that “…The State of Texas, by and through its employees, agents, and representatives withheld evidence, destroyed evidence, coerced untruthful confessions, utilized junk science, bribed witnesses, fraudulently concealed the foregoing and knowingly convicted not one, but four individuals (Tony Melendez, Gilbert Melendez, David Spence, and Muneer Deeb)…”
Chief allegations regard new blood spatter evidence, discrepancies and outright impossibilities as to time line and logistic allegations in the prosecution’s case, and the existence of as many as five separate and conflicting confessions taken from a defendant who entered a guilty plea in return for a promise of a diminished life sentence for the capital crime and an early parole date within 10 years. The evidence of that allegation was captured on tape by a concealed recorder in the conference room of the DA’s office.
To prove those and other allegations, the litigants acting on behalf of the estates of the deceased convicts must obtain from the Court, 345th District Judge Jan Soifer, an order that will allow:
“Determination that Plaintiffs were actually innocent;
“Declaration that Plaintiffs are eligible for statutory compensation for his wrongful imprisonment;
“Declaration that Plaintiffs are eligible for Writ of Habeas Corpus relief;
“Compensation for wrongful imprisonment;
“An award of reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees and costs; and
“For such other and further relief, general or special, in law or in equity, to which he may prove himself to be justly entitled.”
A big part of the controversy is related to the Michael Morton law, which allows the prosecution of legal professionals who have withheld exculpatory evidence of those convicted in error. Judge Ken Anderson of Williamson County lost his license to practice law and received a prison sentence for not disclosing evidence he knew of at the time of his prosecution of Morton. That evidence led to the exoneration of Michael Morton for the murder of his wife.
The Dallas law firm of Jay English, representing Jason Spence, David Wayne Spence’s son, filed the suit seeking relief for the estates of the alleged Lake Waco murderers.
Reading its 38 pages is a minor education on the back room maneuvers by former District Attorney Vic Feazell and his staff which led to the execution of David Wayne Spence, the guilty pleas from his two co-defendants, the Melendez brothers, and the eventual acquittal of Mohammed Muneer Deeb following his successful pro se appeal of the death sentence for which he served 10 years on death row awaiting execution.
All of them are long since deceased.