Prosecutor awaits FBI test results
Paul Gregory House
Call Governor Phil Bredesen at (615) 741-2001 and ask him to grant a full pardon to Paul House. ( The phone receptionist was unusually sympathetic--do call right away! )
BY JENNIFER BROOKS • STAFF WRITER • JULY 10, 2008
The prosecutor who put Paul House on death row once and planned a
second trial to try to keep him imprisoned for life now says he might
drop the case if the evidence doesn't back him up.
Eighth Judicial District Attorney William Paul Phillips, who is
prosecuting House for the 1985 killing of Carolyn Muncey, told The
Associated Press on Wednesday that he might drop the charges if
House's DNA is not found on evidence in the case. He said he would
ask a judge to allow the FBI to test a hair found on the victim's hand.
"If it's not his (House's) and not hers and (belongs to) some third
party, then we would have to evaluate that along with all the other
evidence, and we would determine if that raised a reasonable doubt,"
Phillips told the AP. "If at any time that (hair) or any other
evidence raised a reasonable doubt, then we would not prosecute."
DNA evidence was what got House released from prison after nearly 23
years behind bars.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 concluded that House would not have
been convicted based on the DNA evidence that emerged years after his
trial. A federal judge ordered prosecutors to retry House within 180
days or free him. House was released last week pending an October
House's mother, Joyce House, does not see Phillips' announcement as a
sign that he has changed his mind about her son's guilt.
"I don't trust the guy. He's got something up his sleeve," she said
in a telephone interview from her home in Crossville, Tenn., where
her son is staying. "I don't think he's ever going to give up — he's
got his teeth sunk so deep into it."
As for Phillips' declaration that he would not prosecute without DNA
evidence, she said, "Well, I would hope not."
Phillips, who prosecuted the original case against House, began
making plans for a new trial before House had even been released from
"I'm looking forward to giving him a new trial," he told The
Tennessean in May. "I am confident we will be ready within 180 days."
Stacy Rector, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition to
Abolish State Killing, believes the high court's ruling should have
ended Phillips' role in the case.
"I think that would be the just and responsible thing to do, to not
waste any more time or taxpayer money on a trial. The U.S. Supreme
Court has already said no reasonable juror would lack reasonable
doubt in this case, given the evidence," she said. "This trial
completely flies in the face of that. There is, to my knowledge, no
new evidence the prosecution would provide."
Rape Ruled Out
DNA testing has already proved that House did not rape Muncey, and
the blood found on his jeans came from samples spilled on them
afterward during the investigation.
"I continue to be baffled why the prosecutor wants to continue to
pursue this, given the court rulings and the evidence," Rector said.
"This has gone on far, far too long for everybody. It needs to be
concluded. The evidence is on the side of Paul House that he didn't
commit this crime. That's not just my opinion, but that of the
Supreme Court, the highest court in the land."
House's assistant public defender, Dale Potter, told the AP he is
proceeding with House's case as if it will begin in the fall as planned.
"If he (Phillips) decides to drop the charges, I don't think there
will be anybody screaming 'don't do it,' " Potter said. "If you're a
DA and you send off things to the crime lab and you're needing
certain test results and they don't come back showing what you need,
it's a whole lot less you have in your hands for proof, and this case
is already short on proof."
Phillips said the FBI is testing fingernail clippings from the victim
and cigarette butts submitted in House's first trial in 1985 to
determine if any DNA can be obtained.
Phillips said there was no scientific analysis available to be
performed on the items at the time of the original trial.
Phillips said he doesn't know when he will get DNA results back from
the FBI for the cigarette butts and fingernail clippings, but he
thinks they could get the hair results in a matter of weeks.
"We're getting ready for trial actively now, and this (DNA testing)
is part of it. We're trying to be very thorough. If the team of our
staff members determines at any time that in their professional
judgment there's reasonable doubt then we would not go forward."
Meanwhile, Joyce House said her son continues to enjoy his first
summer of freedom in two decades.
"He's doing great, he's just fine," she said. "We're both taking this
one day at a time."
The Associated Press and Tennessean reporters Brad Schrade and Chris
Echegaray contributed to this report. Contact Jennifer Brooks at
259-8892 or firstname.lastname@example.org.