On September 2, 2009, the Texas Attorney General’s Office agreed to release Michael Toney, nine months after his conviction and death sentence were overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals based on evidence that the District Attorney’s Office withheld exculpatory evidence from Michael’s defense counsel.
Michael was convicted of a 1985 briefcase bombing that killed three people in a mobile home. His trial occurred in 1999, 14 years after the bombing. He was first implicated when another inmate, Charles Ferris, claimed that Michael had confessed while being held on unrelated charges. No physical evidence tied Michael to the crime, and the only evidence connecting him to the bombing came in the form of statements from two witnesses, which were later found to be inconsistent and highly suspect.
Michael’s own account reveals that his alleged “confession” to Ferris was nothing more than an ill-conceived attempt to help Ferris avoid prosecution. Ferris told Michael that the police wanted him to implicate someone in a bombing. Michael told Ferris to give the police his name, reasoning that he could not possibly be prosecuted for a crime that had occurred while he was incarcerated. Michael later learned that the crime was one that had occurred 13 years earlier. Even though Ferris quickly recanted his statement, Michael was prosecuted and convicted.
In 2007, the Project recruited the law firm O’Melveny & Myers to represent Michael in his federal habeas proceedings. Prosecutors were unable to find any physical evidence connecting Michael to the bombing, but they relied on the testimony of his ex-wife and his former friend. The friend’s testimony was suspect even at trial—he could not answer any questions without first consulting a prepared statement. O’Melveny & Myers later discovered that the State had failed to disclose at least 14 documents showing that the prosecutors were aware of serious inconsistencies between the statements of the ex-wife and friend and that police may have written the witnesses’ accounts for them. The District Attorney’s Office, contrary to usual practice, acknowledged that it withheld exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys and recused itself from Michael’s case. The Texas Attorney General then filed a motion to dismiss the case.
Tragically, one month after he was released, Michael was killed in a car accident. One of his friends later wrote that Michael “packed a lot of living into the last month of his life beyond bars.” During his first weekend of freedom, he was able to reunite with his daughter and grandchildren. With the assistance of his longtime supporters from France, he was able to purchase a plot of land with a cabin. He adopted a dog from an animal shelter, purchased a pickup truck, and was working on painting his house.
Another friend wrote after his death: “Michael really enjoyed living out in the country, and he was a country boy at heart. His future looked very promising.”