It's rare to read a case like Harrison v. McBride (here). James Harrison was convicted of murdering a woman and her two children. Did he really do it? Did someone else do it? Did Judge James McBride, who presided over Harrisons' murder trial, have connections to drug dealers who were trying to kill the murder victim? We don't know, but something about the Judge McWine's actions was rotten. It was so rotten that a unanimous three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, applying highly-deferential AEDPA standards, affirmed a district court's grant of Harrisons' writ of habeas corpus. It was rotten enough that the district court concluded: "This is a case in which actual bias has been demonstrated not by judicial rulings, but by Judge Redwine's personal participation in the development of the proceedings .... Apart from his rulings, Judge Redwine’s statements and actions preceding trial, at the change of judge hearing, during trial and in the letter denying certain attorneys fees, illustrate an unmistakable bias infecting James Harrison’s trial and depriving him of a fair trial."
Here are some choice facts from the appellate court's opinion:
During the course of preparations for Mr. Harrison’s trial, defense counsel learned through depositions that, not long before Forsee was killed, she had told officers of the Indiana State Police (“ISP”) that she feared for her life. More specifically, she told Detectives Gary Gilbert and Larry Rhoades that she was being followed by a man in a suspicious van, that she had information about drug activity in Posey County involving her ex-boyfriend, Charles Hanmore, and another individual, Roger Greathouse, and that Judge Redwine had been present at Greathouse’s home when drugs were being unloaded on Greathouse’s property.
These are, as-yet, unconfirmed allegations. They could be false. But what's not false is that the judge did everything within his power to keep the defense from arguing that someone else committed the crime, even though the murder victim made a police report before being killed. This wasn't a boogey-man defense. The defense wanted to argue that "members of the local drug community, rather than Mr. Harrison, had targeted Forsee because of her knowledge of drug activity." Who was the judge to whom they wanted to argue this? Judge Redwine. Thus, the defense asked for a new judge. Judge Redwine denied the motion. It gets worse ... much worse.
The panel continued: "On the same day that the motion for a change of judge was filed, Judge Redwine telephoned Greathouse and shared with him the allegations in the motion. The Judge requested that Greathouse attend the scheduled hearing on that motion."
During the hearing, a detective testified that the murder victim told him that "Judge Redwine was a person who was aware of drug activity," specifically, "that [he was] aware of semi loads of marijuana." Of course, "A tape recording of this interview had been made, but subsequently had been misplaced." Really? Misplaced? A good detective, upon learning that a judge might have ties to a drug organization, would keep that tape close to the vest. Or so we'd think.