WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- They've spent nearly three decades in prison for a horrible murder they say the did not commit. Now in closing arguments at an unusual innocence hearing, lawyers for seven DC men told the judge the pieces of the puzzle just do not fit.
The attorneys argued prosecutors withheld eyewitness accounts that identified two other potential lone suspects. They pointed to testimony by one of the defendants, a mildly mentally retarded then 16-year-old, that police beat a confession out of him. And they suggested the physical evidence is at odds with the accounts of witnesses at trial.
Back in 1985, jurors spent a week deliberating in the beating and sodomy murder of Catherine Fuller, a house cleaner and mother of six. They ended up acquitting two people and sending eight others to prison. One has died, the others are asking Judge Frederick Weisberg to vacate their convictions or order a new trial.
Fuller was beaten, robbed and sodomized with a pole in a garage off an alley in October, 1984. Police believed huge group of young people they called the 8th and H Crew killed her.
Cliff Yarborough confessed, but on the stand now, he recanted. He described Fuller being sodomized and hit with a "stick-like thing." But his lawyer says there is no sign of Fuller being hit or attacked with a stick. Nor he says is there any evidence of her being "stomped," as many witnesses at trial described it.
Defense attorneys say prosecutors withheld eyewitness accounts pointing to two other suspects. One committed a strikingly similar sodomy-murder just a few blocks away. Another killed an eyewitness who said she saw him in the alley. But defense attorneys at the time were unaware the witnesses existed, even after police talked to them.
But Jody Goodman, who argued the case on appeal for the prosecution, says courts have always been suspicious of witnesses who recant their testimony later.
The prosecutor told the judge in closing that the evidence against the men is "overwhelming."
The closing arguments should wrap up Tuesday, and then the judge may take a few weeks to decide what to do.
Written and Reported by Bruce Leshan
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