Today the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that death row inmate, Perry Cribbs, is entitled to a new sentencing hearing, reversing his death sentence and remanding the case back to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing. Perry Cribbs has been on Tennessee’s death row for 15 years.
In November 1994, Perry Anthony Cribbs was convicted of killing Linda Harris in Memphis, Tennessee, with no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Cribbs’ conviction was based on the questionable eyewitness identification of Harris’ husband and the unreliable testimony of Cribbs’ then mentally ill, drug addicted girlfriend. Because Cribbs’ attorneys failed to investigate his case, the jury never heard testimony from an alibi witness or a witness who had information that others, including Mrs. Harris’ husband committed the crime. The jury never heard from Linda Harris’ family and friends who knew that Harris’ husband had motives to have her killed.
On February 12, 1994, two days before Cribbs’ arrest, a Shelby County jail inmate named James Parker contacted Memphis homicide detectives and told them that he was present when a man he identified as Sidney Harris asked a drug dealer to find someone to kill his wife. According to Mr. Parker’s statement, Sidney Harris owed the dealer money.
Mr. Parker said he was also present days later when three men, who he identified by nicknames, talked about killing Linda Harris. They said they should have killed the husband too instead of only wounding him. The detectives assigned to the case did not follow up on the lead nor did Cribbs’ trial attorneys ever attempt to contact Parker or anyone named in his statement. At the post conviction hearing, Mr. Parker stated that he served his time for the petty crime for which he was in custody and did not expect to receive a deal for providing information to the police. Other witnesses testified at the post-conviction hearing that Sidney Harris was involved in the sale of drugs.
Neither the state nor Cribbs’ attorneys talked to the family and friends of Linda Harris, several of whom, at the post-conviction hearing, testified to the problems in the Harris marriage and about Sidney Harris’ behavior before and after his wife’s death. In the weeks before her death, Linda Harris wrote a letter to her sister expressing concern about what would happen to her daughter if something happened to her. Family members were aware that Linda Harris’ life insurance was changed before her death and that there was a gun in the home. Sidney Harris did not attend his wife’s funeral even though he had his doctor’s permission to do so, and even Mr. Harris’ own brother called police and told them that he did not think his brother was telling everything he knew about the murder.The police still never pursued Harris as a suspect, and again, Cribbs’ trial attorneys never investigated Harris or talked to his brother, even though they were aware of his brother’s statement.
One week before trial and with an incomplete investigation, Cribbs’ lead attorney withdrew from the case due to illness, and second counsel took over. New counsel did not ask for a continuance in order to complete the investigation. Another attorney was appointed as co-counsel but did not have time to prepare before trial.
Perry Cribbs maintains that he is innocent of this crime and has no knowledge of Linda Harris’ murder. This case is yet another demonstration of the problems that currently plague the death penalty system, including grossly inadequate representation at trial and faulty eyewitness testimony.
With no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, Cribbs received a death sentence. Thankfully, the Tennessee Supreme Court recognized the total ineffectiveness of his attorneys and granted him this new sentencing hearing. However, given the facts in this case, Perry Cribbs should be allowed to challenge his conviction with a new trial as well. This time Cribbs should have competent attorneys presenting all the evidence, evidence never considered by the jury. Without a new trial, too many questions remain.
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