On the evening of November 28, 1985, a family returned to their Lake Worth, Texas trailer to find a briefcase on the front porch. They brought the briefcase inside, and when 15-year-old Angela Blount opened it, a bomb exploded. She was killed along with her father, Joe Blount, and cousin, Michael Columbus. There seemed to be no motive whatsoever for the murders. A man who lived across the street and was involved in illegal weapons sales later said he thought the bomb might have been meant for him.
No one was charged with the crime for over a decade, but in 1996, in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombings, the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reopened the case as part of an effort to investigate all unsolved domestic bombings. In 1997, an inmate in the Parker County Jail told police that a fellow inmate, Michael Toney, had confessed to planting the bomb. Toney, who was in prison for burglary, insisted he was innocent, but he was charged with capital murder.
Toney’s trial began soon afterwards, but in the meantime, the jailhouse informant recanted his confession, claiming that he and Toney had concocted the story as a ploy to get the informant out of prison, but had not thought that Toney would actually be tried. No physical evidence connected Toney to the crime, but prosecutors had found two other witnesses to testify at trial: Toney’s ex-wife Kim Toney, and his former best friend Chris Meeks. When first questioned by police, Kim Toney claimed she knew nothing about the bombings, but after looking up the case, she told police she had been near the Blount’s trailer park on the evening of the murders with Toney and Meeks. She said Toney had entered the trailer park carrying a briefcase that, several days earlier, she had seen filled with bombs, and then returned to the car without the briefcase. Meeks, who also claimed not to remember the bombings at first, later told a similar story. Toney was convicted on May 20, 1999 and sentenced to death.
Toney’s initial appeal and later petition for habeas corpus were both denied. However, on a second petition for state habeas corpus the defense produced evidence that the prosecution had withheld 14 documents that contained important evidence contradicting the witnesses’ testimony and suggesting that police had fed information to their witnesses. On December 17, 2008, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction, ruling that prosecutors had wrongly withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. Prosecutors decided not to retry the case, and on September 2, 2009, Toney was released from prison.
One month later, on October 3, 2009, Toney died when his truck veered off the road and overturned, throwing him from the vehicle.
- Alexandra Gross