A Georgia Superior Court overturned the murder conviction of death row inmate Willie Palmer after finding that prosecutors hid a $500 payoff to the state's key trial witness, an act the judge said was "in defiance of (the state's) legal and ethical duties." The judge also threw out Palmer's death sentence on the grounds that his trial lawyer failed to investigate and present evidence of Palmer's mental retardation.
In his opinion, the judge noted that prosecutors "intentionally hid" a deal made with the a state witness, and that prosecutors "aggressively resisted" the deal's disclosure until a hearing that took place 6 years after Palmer's 1997 trial. "It appears logically inescapable that the state knew, only too well, how extremely material this evidence was in this case. It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of how this suppression could have been done in good faith.... Without the jury being informed that the state has provided an important witness a pecuniary motivation to testify, the trial transforms into a basically corrupt process in which the jury is deprived of a major key to seeking and deciding the truth - and determining a man's fate," the judge wrote in ordering a new trial for Palmer. The State Attorney General's Office is appealing the ruling.