Mr. Martin, a priest, was convicted of sexually molesting a 13-year-old boy
in a classic he said/she said case. But this case had three kickers.
First, Denise Watson Gilbreath, a former Florida prosecutor, testified without
objection that when she worked with Martin on policies designed to prevent
priest sex abuse, Mr. Martin that he "strongly disagreed with the policy
recommendation she eventually helped develop," and that Martin
"became very agitated and felt that the policy needed to ensure that
people accusing ministers of sexual abuse were telling the truth before the
parish involved the police." Further, "Gilbreath testified
[again, without objection] that she felt that this was an inappropriate
reaction that focused too greatly on protecting the accused clergymen, not the
Second, police officer Charles Morancheck testified, without objection, that
at a meeting with Martin, the priest asserted his right to counsel and
"provided only biographical information and did not answer questions about
Carl S.’s allegations." Further, "Morancheck testified that
after describing the accusations to him, Martin did not make any verbal
responses, but raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips."
Third, Martin testified and also presented character evidence.
"At closing argument, the prosecutor argued that the jury should not be
swayed by the testimony of Martin’s character witnesses, because even men like
Jeffrey Dahmer and Theodore Oswald had character witnesses." Martin's
lawyer did not object, even though this was right after they pulled body parts
from Dahmer's refrigerator.
After being convicted and exhausting his state court remedies, the district
court refused to grant his habeas petition. A unanimous three-judge panel
reversed. (Yes, that's right - reversed.) Martin v.
04-4247. The panel found that Martin's trial counsel had been
ineffective under Strickland, and moreover, that the state court's
unreasonably applied Strickland to Martin's case. The panel
provided an interesting discussion of consciousness of guilt evidence, but
before going into the legalisms, let's read between the lines for the real
rule. Here goes...
Prisoners almost always lose habeas cases, and for good reasons. The
AEDPA, unconstitutional though it might be, makes winning habeas cases
difficult. First, the procedures are agonizingly complex, and second, the
AEDPA requires that even convictions obtained unconstitutionally stand, so long
as the state courts did unreasonably violate the Constitution (as if
there's ever a reasonable constitutional violation!). Moreover,
there is usually substantive evidence of guilt. In drug cases, the police
find drugs. In most sex-crime cases, the police find DNA, or the
complaining witness suffers some injury.
But here, the complaining witness did not suffer and physical injury, and
there wasn't any physical evidence that the priest had molested him. In
he said/she said cases, federal courts generally require state courts to comply
with the Constitution. In theory, the same AEDPA is applied to every
case. In fact, in cases lacking physical evidence, reviewing
courts apply it a bit more strenuously. Indeed, the panel called the
decision to prosecute Martin "imponderable." I've always agreed
with this approach, since it's more likely an innocent person will be convicted
in a weak case when the prosecution violates the Constitution. Enough
The panel found that Ms. Gilbreath's testimony was irrelevant and
prejudicial, and that Mr. Martin's counsel was ineffective for not objecting to
it (uh, yeah). The government argued that Gilbreath's testimony was
relevant consciousness of guilt evidence. Wrong. "First,
Martin was not even aware of the accusations against him at the time of his
interactions with Gilbreath. Moreover, his contact with Gilbreath was in a
completely different jurisdiction and several years after the time of the alleged
assaults. Second, and most important, a belief that clergy should be protected
from false allegations of sexual misconduct and afforded due process does not
imply a guilty conscience."
The panel further noted that Morancheck's testimony did nothing but punish
Martin for exercising his right to counsel, and thus should not have been
admissible. "Finally, Martin’s counsel was also deficient for
failing to move for a mistrial after the prosecution’s closing argument. The
prosecutor’s attempt to neutralize Martin’s character witnesses by referring to
Jeffrey Dahmer and Theodore Oswald was inflammatory and improper."
Martin was prosecuted in Wisconsin, and thus, "[t]he reference to Dahmer
was particularly troubling, considering the trial took place in Wisconsin in
1995, when the memory of Dahmer’s sexual exploitation and gruesome murders of
young men was still fresh in the minds of area residents."
Martin is an interesting case, and although it's only eight pages, it
offers a lot to ponder. Read