The state Court of Appeals has ruled that Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson had no legal basis for ordering the release of a man convicted of sexually assaulting and killing a 2-year-old Durham girl.
In 2010, Hudson dismissed the case against Derrick Michael Allen, saying the Durham mans constitutional rights had been violated by prosecutors and State Bureau of Investigation agents who failed to share crucial details of blood tests.
The state Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision released Tuesday, said Hudson had made findings of fact without adequate evidence. The three-judge panel reversed his ruling, remanding the case back to Durham County Superior Court.
Allen, 33, faces a new trial on accusations that he sexually assaulted and killed Adesha Artis, the 2-year-old daughter of his girlfriend in 1998. An autopsy showed the toddler died from shaken-baby syndrome.
Allens murder case acquired statewide prominence when it became entangled with two major criminal justice storylines the inner-workings of the SBI crime lab and the ouster of former Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline.
The Allen case was among about 200 identified in a state-ordered audit that claimed blood tests done by the SBI crime lab were not accurately or fully presented in court trials.
In an unusual challenge to a judge, Cline charged that Hudson had demanded she drop the Allen case because it had been tainted by questionable SBI crime lab reporting procedures. Cline contended in a series of stridently worded court motions that Hudson responded to her refusal to drop the case by arbitrarily dismissing it and setting Allen free after 12 years behind bars.
Cline called the dismissal an extreme abuse of power and the beginning of a corrupt smear campaign against her. She was later removed from office after her claims against the judge were ruled baseless. She is appealing her removal.
In the period following his release, Allen was arrested for other crimes. On Tuesday, Allen was in Randolph County jail awaiting trial on charges involving drugs and firearms.
Plea, and then challenge
In the murder case, Allen, according to court documents, was left with another woman in the home of Diane Jones in February 1998 to babysit Ava. Thirty minutes after the toddlers mother left for work, Allen called 911 and told emergency dispatchers the child was unresponsive.
Allens case, though, never went to trial. Facing the possibility of a death sentence, he entered a plea in August 1999 in which he accepted guilty verdicts for second-degree murder and a first-degree sexual offense, but acknowledged no guilt. He was sentenced to at least 43 years.
In 2004, Allen challenged his convictions.
In March 2009, the trial court vacated the judgments against Allen, allowing him to withdraw his guilty pleas. He faced the possibility of a trial in 2010, when Hudson dismissed the case.
Hudson found that prosecutors withheld critical information and flagrantly violated Allens constitutional rights and had caused such irreparable prejudice as to necessitate the dismissal of charges.
Hudson ruled that prosecutors failed to provide the defense with a polygraph test of the woman who was in the home with Allen at the time of the girls death. He said prosecutors had not turned over an SBI report regarding testing for the presence of blood on the girls underwear and sleepwear that raised questions about the substance. He said prosecutors failed to provide the defendant with information about crime lab practices and procedures.
The appeals court judges, with Judge Sam Ervin IV authoring the 54-page ruling, said they could not discern any legal basis for the sanction imposed by Hudson.
We do not, however, wish to be understood as commending the practices employed with respect to the testing of the blood allegedly found upon Avas underwear and sleepwear, Ervin concluded in a ruling with which appeals court judges Ann Marie Calabria and Cressie Thigpen concurred.
On the contrary, we share the trial courts displeasure with the manner in which the blood testing results were disclosed to the defendant and the manner in which aspects of the prosecution of this case have been handled. Even so, given our inability to discern any legal basis for the sanction imposed in the trial courts order, we are obligated to reverse it.
Hudson said Tuesday that he thought the Court of Appeals did a very good job analyzing the issue.
They just didnt think dismissal was the proper remedy, Hudson said.
The court noted the problems with the case, but said the errors had been disclosed in time for the defendant to make use of the material at trial if he chose.
The appeals court panel also found that Hudson erred by concluding that the prosecutor intentionally presented false evidence at the plea hearing by stating that there was blood on the victims underwear.
The appeals court determined that whether such blood existed was not material under the circumstances. There was substantial independent evidence that the victim was bleeding and no evidence that anyone else implicated in the case had been bleeding, according to the ruling.
Efforts to reach Cline on Tuesday were unsuccessful, as were efforts to reach Leon Stanback, the former Durham Superior Court judge who now is interim district attorney.
Hudson said he, Cline and the defense attorney had meetings in which there were discussions about possible plea deals and how to proceed with the case before he dismissed it in 2010. Many options were discussed, including the possibility of a plea deal in which Allen would enter a guilty plea and be sentenced for time served.
There was a lot of negotiation, Hudson said. We negotiated behind closed doors.
Ultimately, all sides could not agree and the case went before Hudson for a ruling that was reversed by the Court of Appeals.
Cline faces a disciplinary hearing in front of the State Bar in October.