Mississippi public defender Bob Evans and several attorneys at the D.C.-based Covington & Burling law firm have filed a brief with the Mississippi Court of Appeals on behalf of Cory Maye. This is the fist step in Maye’s appeal of his capital murder conviction for killing Prentiss, Mississippi police officer Ron Jones during a botched drug raid on Maye’s home in December 2001. You can download and read the brief here.
I’m obviously reading the brief as a partisan, and as someone who isn’t a lawyer, but I find it enormously convincing. It also illustrates just how bad Maye’s trial attorney really was. You wonder how many other criminal defendants’ cases would look a whole lot different were they able to procure the service of a top-notch law firm.
There is one bit of new information in the brief that I’m embarrassed to say seems to have escaped everyone the past few years, including me: If you look back through the trial transcripts, there’s no testimony from any of the raiding police officers that they actually knocked on Maye’s door. There’s testimony that they announced themselves, and that they made several attempts to kick down the door. But not a single one of them testified to knocking, or to seeing or hearing another officer knock. Taking the police testimony at face value, they announced “police!”—and then began kicking down the door.
This seems to be pretty important. The prosecution’s contention may have had a bit more weight if the police claimed to have knocked several times and announced themselves before trying to take down the door. But to yell “police,” and then start kicking without a knock only bolsters Maye’s claim that he thought criminal intruders were breaking into his home.
Put yourself in Maye’s position again. You’re asleep. It’s after midnight. For starters, it’s probably a safe assumption that a sleeping person wouldn’t hear—or at least shouldn’t be expected to mentally process—the initial police announcement. That’s why knocking is so critical. Instead, Maye was awoken to the sound of several men trying to kick down his door. At that point, even subsequent police announcements probably wouldn’t register, or at least you couldn’t blame him for not processing them. Moreover, Maye’s attorneys note in the brief that one police officer inside the duplex on the other side during the Maye raid says he didn’t hear any police announcement.
But there’s room for more confusion, here, too. Even assuming Maye heard and processed the police announcement, it isn’t clear that he would have known the announcement was directed at him. Indeed, he had little reason to think the police would ever break into his apartment. He wasn’t dealing drugs, and had no criminal record. He did, however, live next door to a known drug dealer, the presumed target of the raid. Even assuming Maye heard sirens, or saw lights, or heard a police announcement (and there’s little reason to think he did any of that), it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to assume it was all directed at his neighbor, and to fear that the person trying to break into his home was his neighbor, or possibly one of his neighbor’s clients, fleeing the police. After all, the police are supposed to knock before entering, particularly when they’re at the door of someone who hasn’t committed any major crime. Someone breaking into your home without knocking, in the dead of night, is more likely to be a criminal.
The warrant to search Maye’s home, incidentally, was not a no-knock warrant.
Covington & Burling attorney Abe Pafford says he expects the court to hear the case early next year.