In September 2010, U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills set aside the sentence of Mississippi Death Row prisoner Quintez Wren Hodges based on evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel.
During the sentencing phase of Quintez’s trial, the State relied heavily on a theory that Quintez lacked remorse and had previously been given leniency in connection with a past charge involving the mother of the victim in his capital case. Both Quintez and his mother were questioned by the State about whether Quintez had received leniency in the prior case, and both denied that such a thing had ever occurred. The State then called former Assistant District Attorney James Kitchens, Jr. Kitchens testified that the victim in the prior case, who was also the mother of the victim in the capital case, had pleaded with prosecutors for leniency on Quintez’s behalf, and as a result he asked the court to give Quintez a reduced sentence. The prosecutors in the capital case used this testimony to paint a picture of Quintez as “a remorseless liar who was shown kindness that he refused to acknowledge and which he repaid by murdering the son of the woman who extended it.”
In 2006, the Project recruited a team of volunteer attorneys from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to represent Quintez in his post-conviction proceedings. These attorneys conducted a thorough investigation of the case and discovered that Kitchens’ damning testimony was blatantly false. Transcripts from the prior case showed that the prosecution made no recommendation about Quintez’s sentence, and further, there was no record in the transcript that the victim had requested leniency for Quintez or that Kitchens was even involved with the plea negotiations.
After Skadden attorneys presented this evidence at a hearing, the district court found that Kitchens provided testimony that was “factually at odds with what is contained in the record” and further that prosecutors knew or at the very least should have known his testimony to be untrue, since the earlier case was prosecuted by the same office. The court condemned the State’s actions in Quintez’s capital trial and reversed his sentence, saying:
In this instance, the State, seemingly unconcerned with the accuracy of the testimony to be given in a trial where the result could be death, provided the jury with false information. . . . In light of these facts, this Court concludes that there exists a reasonable probability that this testimony affected the jury’s judgment. Confidence in the verdict has been undermined by the State’s actions, there has been no demonstration that the error did not contribute to Petitioner’s death sentence, and Petitioner is entitled to relief . . . .
While Quintez’s appeals were pending, Kitchens was appointed to the bench; today he is a circuit judge in the 16th judicial district in Mississippi.