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Investigator Misconduct Leads to Dismissal of Murder Charge

18-Apr-2016

One of our most popular and widely shared Huffington Post articles is that in which we described prosecutorial misconduct and how public perception of prosecuting attorneys and criminal defense lawyers does not always mesh with what plays out in courts across the United States. The article touched a nerve, because we, as a public, expect the prosecutors to be the ones to uphold the law, not to be the ones who break the law in order to gain a conviction at all costs. And although public perception is often that criminal defense lawyers are trying to help criminals escape punishment for the crimes they've committed, the truth is that they are holding prosecutors accountable to their duty to uphold justice. A defense lawyer may not be defending a guilty person, but rather defending an innocent person against unethical and unlawful prosecution.

Of course, the attorneys are not the only ones responsible for ensuring that justice is upheld--so are law enforcement and the investigative agencies who work to gather evidence in the case. The case is only as strong as the evidence, and when an investigator or law enforcement agent collects evidence through illegal means or otherwise tampers with evidence in an effort to build a stronger case, the whole case can collapse.

Such is the case of convicted murderer Thomas Mongrain Eaves. 

In September 2015, Eaves, 56, of Pawhuska, brought his girlfriend's lifeless body to a hospital, saying that she was unconscious and he needed their help getting her into the hospital. When nurses wheeled Starr Pennington, 44, into the hospital, it quickly became apparent that the woman was dead and had been for several hours.

As police interviewed Eaves, he changed his story several times. He said that Pennington was an alcoholic, and that she had been unconscious for some time--since the previous night, since two days prior, since several hours prior to his taking her to the hospital. When Pennington was discovered to have multiple injuries, including facial bruising, head trauma, a broken jaw, and broke ribs, Eaves had varying accounts for how each of the injuries occurred. Investigators also discovered that the relationship between Eaves and Pennington had a history of domestic violence.

But now, many of Eaves's statements have been ruled inadmissible due to "investigator misconduct," and the federal government has dismissed murder charges against the defendant. However, Eaves still faces trial in Osage Tribal Court.

This does not seem to be the case of an innocent man getting railroaded by investigators. Although everyone is to be considered innocent unless proven guilty, and although we will not know whether or not Eaves murdered his girlfriend until the case reaches its resolution, there is little to support the notion that Eaves is a good man.

In 1986, he was convicted of second degree murder for shooting and killing his own father. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but served nearly 12 before being released. In 2000, he was again convicted of violent crimes, this time for tampering with a victim by intimidation, physical force and threats. In that case, he was accused of choking and beating a woman, and then threatening her with more violence if she reported him.

So, yes, Eaves has a history of violence. And, no, it does not seem like he is a good man at all. However, the only sure way to put a bad man behind bars is to make sure you get your evidence the right way. Rather than solidifying the case, misconduct used in interviewing the suspect led to the dismissal of the charge against him.
 



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