On September 16, 1987, Bill Mowbray, a well known Brownsville, Texas, car dealer, was fatally shot in his bedroom. Bill’s wife, Susie Mowbray, claimed that Bill had shot himself while she was lying in bed next to him, and said that for months he had been threatening suicide over financial troubles. The police examined the scene, the decedent and the decedent’s clothing for blood spatters and gunshot residue. Police investigators also examined Mowbray’s nightgown with luminal, and identified a blood spatter pattern that was not visible to the naked eye. Based on this investigation, they concluded that Mowbray was likely the shooter.
The prosecution had the crime scene evidence re-analyzed by Herbert MacDonnell, a nationally renowned blood spatter expert, who concluded that the luminal staining procedure the police investigators used was not a reliable method of viewing blood spatter, in part because luminal reacts with substances other than blood and no testing had confirmed that the substances found were indeed blood. MacDonnell himself found no blood spatter on the nightgown. Though the prosecution was aware of MacDonnell’s conclusions months before the trial, his written report was not turned over to the defense until two weeks before trial and the prosecution did not call him to testify.
At Mowbray’s trial, two police investigators testified that their examination of the blood spatter and gunshot residue indicated that Mowbray had shot her husband. In June 1988, a jury convicted Mowbray of first-degree murder and she was sentenced to life in prison. In 1995, the police investigators who had testified at Mowbray’s trial admitted at a hearing that there was no scientific support for their testimony. In December 1996, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Mowbray a new trial based on the testimony of the police investigators, as well as the finding that the prosecution’s suppression of MacDonnell’s conclusions deprived Mowbray of a fair trial. Prosecutors appealed the decision, and Mowbray remained in prison until May 1997, when she was released on bond pending the outcome of the prosecution’s appeal of her case to the United States Supreme Court. After the Supreme Court denied review in June 1997, the prosecution proceeded to retry Mowbray in January 1998. On January 24, 1998, the jury acquitted Mowbray of all charges.
- Stephanie Denzel