Prosecutor Sarah Mickelson paid witnesses, lied to the court and was subsequently promoted
Prosecutors in the US routinely reward witnesses for parroting the government's version of events on the witness stand. These rewards frequently take the form of reduced prison time, but can also include cash payments. On September 25, 2015, a defense motion filed by Houston defense lawyer Paul Morgan stated that prosecutors violated the constitutional rights of his client, Vernon Brooks, by withholding information relevant to cash payments received by three witnesses, totaling $5,000, after they testified in a related case in February.
Prosecutors and their apologists routinely claim that witnesses are rarely paid. While cash payments may be difficult to uncover, rewarding criminals with greatly reduced sentences for often perjured testimony is not only ubiquitous, it is a hallmark of American justice.
Prosecutor Sarah Mickelson, of the Harris County District Attorney's Office, is accused of withholding evidence and lying before the Court. Defense counsel maintains that they were never advised of cash payments for prosecution witnesses.
"We specifically had a pretrial hearing regarding this subject," said defense attorney Mike Trent. "And (Mickelson) assured the court that no promises of leniency or other benefit had been made to any of the witnesses."
Trent claims to have specifically asked during the hearing if there were any "paid" informants. He claims he was explicitly told no by Mickelson. Trent also said that the testimony of the three paid witnesses was essential to convicting his client. Trent has asserted throughout the proceedings that his client is innocent.
"The outcome likely would have been a lot different if the jury had known that these folks were not only getting leniency, but were also getting cash money," said Trent. "This is totally egregious."
Part of the problem for prosecutors who pay witnesses is that defense lawyers are supposed to be told via a Brady disclosure that those witnesses are being rewarded for their testimony. Once being so advised, defense lawyers are often quite adept at raising reasonable doubt with jurors by sullying the reputation and credibility of paid witnesses. Prosecutors in Houston are being accused of short circuiting this whole process by passing off paid witnesses as selfless citizens.
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