Part Three: The innocence project takes on Collins woman's case

Published: Aug. 19, 2011 at 11:08 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 20, 2011 at 12:39 AM CDT
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COLLINS, MS (WDAM) -  Plagued by an alleged discredited witness and ineffective counsel, the 10 year quest to free Leigh Stubbs, a Covington County woman is now in motion. All because of her parents Sheila and Pete Stubbs determination and The Innocence Project now joining the fight.

"This case to me was an aberration when it went through the supreme court. It was an aberration when it was affirmed," said criminal defense attorney Merrida Coxwell.

Coxwell volunteers with The Innocence Project, and is one of three attorneys working to overturn the convictions of Leigh Stubbs and Tammy Vance, based on the alleged improper testimony of Hattiesburg Dentist, Dr. Michael West, and the lack of evidence to back up his claims as an expert in wound patterns and video enhancement.

"One of the claims in the petition for post conviction relief," according to Coxwell, "Is an ineffective assistance claim. It is not the only claim relating to the lawyers conduct but it certainly is a substantial claim. "

Years later, Pete and Sheila Stubbs found a key document in the case, which defense attorneys allegedly never got from the prosecution. It was an FBI report, that contradicted everything Dr. West testified Leigh Stubbs did in surveillance video from the night of the crime.

Coxwell said, "It's his testimony, that he can see the two girls slamming Ms. Williams head by the tool box in the back of the truck, slamming the tool box down. This was something that the Federal Bureau of Investigations, after working on the tape for I think 1 to 2 months could not see and determined that it didn't happen."

Coxwell's said, the FBI report would have shown Dr. West was not the expert he claimed to be, damaging the prosecutions case.

Although, Attorney General Jim Hood said Stubb's conviction wasn't only based on the Doctors testimony.

"He is not the sole witness,' said Hood. "It is easy just to look at what one witnesses history is but if you look at all of the evidence, then this case is where it should be, before the court. The sole question for the court to answer is, did the District Attorney turn over an FBI report that would have simply impeached Dr. West's testimony."

"The prosecution had exculpatory evidence. Evidence that pointed towards innocence and they failed to turn it over. You can't blame the lawyers for not knowing that there was an FBI report out there," said Coxwell.

Coxwell said the Stubbs defense team could have argued a number of issues but didn't.

"In one instance, they failed to object to the introduction of evidence about Vance and Stubbs relationship and that really had nothing to do with the trial, so there are about six or seven issues in the motion for post conviction relief."

The Innocence Project hopes the Stubbs conviction will be set aside opening the door for a new trial back in the same Lincoln County courtroom where she was convicted ten years ago.

We tried to reach out to Dr. West to comment on his involvement with this case, but he has yet to return our request. In the meantime, Attorney General Jim Hood said the state is reviewing more than 20 cases that West has testified in.

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