Judge recommends exoneration for Midland man serving his life


MIDLAND, Texas (PRESS RELEASE) – A Midland County judge has recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Garland “Butch” Martin have his conviction overturned. Martin was convicted of three counts of capital murder in 1999 for the deaths of his wife and children and is currently serving three life sentences. At a hearing in May, the judge heard evidence that the forensic and medical evidence at trial had significant flaws. Martin is represented by the Innocence Project of Texas with the help of students from the Innocence Clinic at Texas Tech School of Law.

“We are pleased and grateful that Judge Rogers, along with the District Attorney’s Office, is recommending that Butch’s conviction be overturned,” said Allison Clayton, deputy director of the Innocence Project of Texas and attorney for Martin. “It was a horrific tragedy compounded by wrongful conviction. When science evolves, we must evolve with it. Science now tells us that we were wrong; our ethics demand that we do everything we can to remedy this.

In February 1998, Martin’s wife, Marcia, their one-year-old daughter and three-year-old son died in a house fire. Although he was at a construction site twenty minutes across town when a neighbor spotted the fire and called 911, Martin was arrested and charged with their murders. During the trial, arson investigators testified that the fire that killed Martin’s family was intentionally started due to the presence of what was then believed to be evidence of accelerators and the presence of a “casting model”.

At the May hearing, Judge David Rogers heard testimony from world-renowned experts that the techniques used to investigate the fire in Martin’s case have since been dismissed. After the conviction, scientists discovered that the purported accelerators found in fire debris are actually present in hundreds of everyday household products and are not indicative of an intentional fire. Likewise, what arson science once considered “casting patterns” are now known to be common in large fires. All experts who reviewed the case, including the Texas State Fire Marshal, ruled the fire was unintentional.

The Innocence Project of Texas also presented evidence from several medical examiners establishing that the medical testimony at trial was not accurate. Additionally, the doctor who testified against Martin later lost his medical license and served time in federal prison. The only other expert who testified against Martin submitted an affidavit to the court saying that after reading the transcript he was “deeply troubled” when he realized his testimony had been misinterpreted. He said he had “serious, heartbreaking doubts as to whether the jury understood my testimony” and that he “honestly feared[s] the jury was unwittingly misled by my testimony in convicting Mr. Martin.

After several months of work and research, the Midland County District Attorney’s Office agreed with Martin that his conviction should be overturned.

Martin, who has always maintained his innocence, said: “I loved my babies more than anything. To be wrongly blamed for their deaths all this time is a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I’ll never be whole again, but I’m more than grateful to Judge Rogers for recommending the reversal.

Martin’s case will now be transferred to the Austin Court of Criminal Appeals for a final decision.

The Innocence Project of Texas is one of the nation’s leading innocence organizations, having exonerated or released twenty-six individuals since 2006. IPTX’s Innocence Clinic at Texas Tech School of Law engages students in advancing IPTX’s mission to exonerate wrongfully convicted Texans by providing first-rate legal advice and investigative services at no cost.

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