Long-Held Secret Takes Man Off Death Row

Ethics board allows lawyer to speak up
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Jan 19, 2008 4:11 PM CST
An undated photograph of Daryl R. Reynolds, whose death sentence was commuted when attorney Leslie Smith was permitted by Virginia bar ethics officials to speak openly about alleged prosecutorial misconduct....   (International Justice Project)

(Newser) – A Virginia lawyer revealed a 10-year-old secret last year that had put a man on death row: Prosecutors coached another suspect to make his testimony match the evidence. When the state's legal ethics board reversed its gag order on Leslie Smith, the lawyer spoke up last week, and the sentence of Daryl R. Atkins was commuted to life, the New York Times reports.

Prosecutors interviewing a co-defendant stopped recording when his testimony didn't gel with physical evidence in a murder-robbery case, Smith said, and when recording resumed, the testimony had changed. Smith was told by the Virginia bar to remain silent about the incident while the co-defendant's case was ongoing. But after it closed, the board let him testify about the affair that Smith says has haunted him for a decade.