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Judge: Tenn. must retry or free death row inmate
Death Row Limbo TNM 5798481
Death row inmate Paul House talks during at interview at the Louis M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville, Tenn., April 16, 2008. Multiple sclerosis has Paul House in a wheelchair. A tenacious prosecutor has him on death row, deemed too dangerous to be released two years after the Supreme Court said he likely isn't guilty. That closely watched ruling, which made it easier for inmates to get new hearings on DNA evidence that emerges after their trials, and the fallout from it have left House in limbo while a prosecutor methodically battles every effort from the courts to have him retried. U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday May 28, 2008 to consider terms and conditions of House's release, but prosecutors are taking their time about setting a date for a new trial. - photo by Associated Press
    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Tennessee to quickly retry or free a death row inmate whose conviction was questioned after the Supreme Court said new evidence raised reasonable doubt about his guilt.
    Paul House, sentenced to die for the 1985 slaying of a young mother, has been in limbo while a prosecutor battles efforts to have him retried.
    On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. held a hearing to consider conditions for releasing House, 46, who has multiple sclerosis and must use a wheelchair. Instead, he granted the inmate’s request to force prosecutors to begin a new trial quickly instead of waiting until November.
    Mattice said the process to hold a new trial must begin by June 17 or House must be freed.
    District Attorney Paul Phillips said after the hearing that Union County will be ready to begin House’s retrial by the deadline. He also said he won’t seek the death penalty again.
    Federal judges, under an order from the U.S. Supreme Court, had already reviewed the case and concluded that new evidence raises reasonable doubt about House’s guilt.
    House went to prison in February 1986 for killing Carolyn Muncey, whose badly beaten body was found near her home in eastern Tennessee. But House maintains he did not kill her.
    In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court concluded in June 2006 that reasonable jurors would not have convicted House if they had seen what DNA tests revealed in the late 1990s.
    Semen collected from Muncey’s nightgown and underwear belonged to her husband, undercutting the premise that House murdered her during a sexual assault. The court also said House’s lawyers offered new witnesses who provided ‘‘substantial evidence pointing to a different suspect.’’
    In December, Mattice ordered the state to retry House within 180 days or release him. The state appealed, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Mattice, and the state finally dropped its challenges.
    In a recent prison interview, House said he’s lost all faith in the criminal justice system.
    ‘‘It’s taken me all these years to prove that I didn’t do it. And I don’t have another 20 years to invest,’’ House said. ‘‘I didn’t do the crime, but I’ve done the time.’’

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