Texas Death Row Inmate with Strong Innocence Claims Dies Three Days Before Appeal

Another possibly innocent man has died on death row.

On April 24th, Max Soffar, age 60, passed away from liver cancer after 35 years on Texas’s death row. Soffar confessed after an illegal three-day interrogation and was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of three people in a Houston bowling alley. Soffar suffered from brain damage from fetal alcohol syndrome, had a mental illness, and a drug addiction. Furthermore, there was neither DNA evidence nor witnesses tying Soffar to the crime scene.

In fact, there was convincing evidence that an alternative suspect committed the murders, TN death row inmate Paul Reid, who himself died of natural causes on Tennessee’s death row a few years ago. Several nights before the murders, there were reports of a man threatening to kill everyone in the bowling alley after being thrown out of it. A witness later identified him as Paul Reid. Further evidence implicating Reid included his past residency in Texas, another ID by a witness at the scene of the crime, and the fact that the murders Reid was convicted of committing in Tennessee fit a similar pattern to the Texas murders.

Soffar was granted a retrial in 2004 because of ineffective assistance of counsel in his 1981 trial. He filed to dismiss the charges because of the outdated evidence, but the courts placed the blame for the delay on his appeals, though prosecutors had participated in delaying the proceedings for over two decades.

His final appeal date was scheduled for April 27th.

The case of Max Soffar is a heart-breaking example of a system where process often trumps justice. Brian Still, one of Soffar’s attorneys, commented on the death penalty saying:

It distorts the process, destroys the promise of a jury of peers (because only those willing to hand down a death sentence can serve), diverts resources badly needed to separate the guilty from the innocent, and needlessly risks the only thing worse than the nightmare my friend endured for 35 years.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Sam Turpen, Intern TADP

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