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Leigh Stubbs

Other Mississippi Exonerations
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On the evening of March 5, 2000, 20-year-old Leigh Stubbs and 31-year-old Tammy Vance were discharged from Cady Hill, a drug rehabilitation facility in Columbus, Mississippi. They agreed to allow 21-year-old Kimberly Williams, who also was being discharged, to travel with them.

After spending the night in a hotel in Columbus, they drove the next day to the home of James Ervin in Summit, Mississippi, stopping along the way to buy alcohol. Ervin, who had been dating Williams, was recuperating from a car accident and was taking Oxycontin for pain.

Vance and Stubbs left Ervin’s house. Williams followed later, carrying a black bag containing Ervin’s Oxycontin. Stubbs drove the truck, and Vance and Williams began drinking alcohol and taking Oxycontin. They intended to drive to Vance’s home in Louisiana, but they got lost. At about 10 p.m., they stopped to spend the night at a Comfort Inn in Brookhaven, Mississippi. By that time, Vance and Williams had passed out, and Stubbs had to help them into their room.

Vance woke up the following morning and was violently ill. Williams remained asleep. Later in the day, Stubbs and Vance left to get food. When they returned, they went back to bed. At about 4:00 p.m., Stubbs and Vance noticed Williams was having difficulty breathing. They called the front desk to ask that an ambulance be summoned because Williams apparently had overdosed.

Stubbs and Vance took turns administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Williams. Stubbs and Vance told paramedics that the last time they saw Williams in a conscious state was the previous night. Stubbs and Vance took the Oxycontin from Williams’s purse and gave the pills to the paramedics.

Williams was unconscious when she was taken to a hospital in Brookhaven where she was diagnosed as having suffered an overdose. She was given several drugs to reverse the effects of the alcohol and Oxycontin. A nurse noted several injuries on Williams’s body: her breasts were swollen, her vagina was swollen and bruised, and there were marks across her buttocks, as though she had been struck with a belt or stick.

Dr. Joe Moak believed the injuries indicated a “brutal sexual assault.” He said the injuries appeared to be two to four days old and looked like “something a man would do.”

That same day, Williams was transferred to Baptist Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi for further treatment. There, Dr. Richard Whitel, a neurologist, discovered a lesion on Williams’s head, although a CAT scan suggested there was no significant trauma to the head.

On March 10, the Lincoln County District Attorney’s Office asked forensic odontologist Dr. Michael West a to examine Williams for possible evidence of being sexually assaulted. West videotaped and photographed the injuries on Williams’s breasts and right hip, and reported to the prosecutor that Williams had a bite mark on her right hip. West asked for dental impressions of any suspects to make a comparison.

Subsequently, West concluded that Stubbs likely made the bite mark on Williams’s hip. West also told the prosecution that although he had not seen any head injury on Williams during his first visit, on this second visit, he found three wounds on her head.

West went to the Brookhaven Police Department where he viewed a surveillance video from the Comfort Inn. West would later testify that he subsequently enhanced the video on his home computer and determined that he saw Stubbs pull a body of a woman with dark hair out of a large toolbox in the back of Stubbs’s truck.

West then examined the truck, which had been impounded. He asked a detective to remove one of the two latches on the toolbox. He later concluded that one latch was responsible for the wounds on Williams’s head, and that similar wounds on Williams’s body below the bite mark were made by the other latch.

In June 2000, a Lincoln County grand jury indicted Stubbs and Vance on charges of assaulting Williams, conspiracy to possess Oxycontin and to commit grand larceny, and possession of Oxycontin.

They went to trial in June 2001 in Lincoln County Circuit Court. A Comfort Inn desk clerk testified that when Stubbs rented the room, she expressed concern about the safety of their belongings in the bed of the truck. The clerk said there were security cameras in the parking lot. Stubbs said that Vance and Williams were passed out in the truck and she was going to have to help them into the motel room. The clerk said Stubbs appeared tired, but not drunk or nervous.

The prosecution called two witnesses who testified that Stubbs and Vance had romantic feelings toward each other and that they saw them kissing.

West told the jury he was a general dentist, a forensic consultant, a forensic odontologist, and an expert on wound patterns who had “investigated over four thousands deaths . . . attended over two thousand autopsies . . . ordered about five hundred autopsies” and “analyzed over three hundred bite marks.”

The jury was shown West’s video of Williams’s head and thigh injuries. West testified that the injuries were the result of someone slamming down the lid of the toolbox three times on Williams when she was inside it.

West told the jury, “It’s my opinion that someone tried to put Kimberly in the toolbox…Somewhere during that, the toolbox is slammed down pinching, creating the injuries on her thigh…and temple.”

West testified that although the wound that he said was a bite mark had swollen by the time he attempted to make a comparison, he was able to exclude Vance, Williams’s boyfriend Ervin, and Ervin’s brother as the source of the mark. He testified that he could not exclude Stubbs. “And it’s more than just a possibility to me, I would see it as a probability,” West testified. He added, “But is it a probability of actual 100 percent? No.”

West testified that he viewed the Comfort Inn surveillance video and “in its original form and then with it blown up and with some computer enhancement.” He testified, “Ten years ago, I would have to send photographs off to the FBI…[and it would] cost us $20,000 to get them back and enhanced….Now, you can sit at home, with your own computer, with $1,000 software and do enhancements that used to be only NASA could do…And that’s what we did in this case.”

West said that he saw Stubbs and Vance coming in and out of the motel room at various times, though never together. He said the tape showed them removing Williams from the toolbox and carrying her into the motel room.

The prosecution asked West to give his opinion as to whether he would “expect to find bite marks…in a rape case or a homosexual rape case.” West said that “wouldn’t be unusual.” Asked whether bite marks “would almost be expected,” West replied, “Almost.”

Williams’s mother testified that Williams had no memory of the being at the motel and that she suffered injuries to her vagina that appeared as if “a wild animal had attacked her.”

Williams testified she did not have any memory of what happened to her after she left Ervin’s house in Summit. She testified she remembered someone took Ervin’s drugs, but she was unable to recall who it was. Williams also remembered she was not injured at the time she was visiting Ervin in Summit.

Two Mississippi Crime Lab employees testified for the defense that Williams’s clothing was examined and no semen was found and that hair found in the toolbox was not similar to Williams’s hair.

Dr. Rodrigo Galvez, a forensic pathologist, testified that Williams could not have fit inside the toolbox. He also said the hinges on the box lid were stiff and did not allow the box to be closed with enough force to have caused the injuries on Williams’s head and leg. He did agree the 37 inches between the injuries coincided with the latches on the tool box.

Galvez also testified there were many objects, other than teeth, that could have left the mark on Williams's hip that West said was a bite mark, such as a flashlight or the heel of a shoe. He said that when he first saw the video of the bite mark, he thought it was an animal bite.

During cross-examination, the prosecution attempted to reinforce its theory that some of the injuries were the result of a sexual assault, asking Galvez where he would “expect to find biting or would be biting consistent with a lesbian-rape type situation.”

“Yes,” Galvez said. “In homosexual crimes…they are very sadistic…They do what we call the over kill. They do tremendous damage, tremendous damage.”

“They are brutal assaults?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yes sir,” Galvez said. “They’re more gory, the more repulsive crimes I’ve ever seen were homosexual to homosexual.”

In closing argument, the prosecutor told the jury: “When you look at all the evidence, you’ll realize that while it’s a circumstantial evidence case, these two women who were living together, were lovers—whether because of the drugs or the alcohol or their lifestyle—viciously attacked Kimberly Williams for no reason and tried to cover it up.”

On June 30, 2001, the jury convicted Vance and Stubbs of assault resulting in serious bodily injury, possession of morphine and conspiring to possess morphine and to commit grand larceny. They were each sentenced to 44 years in prison, and ordered to pay $115,000 in fines and costs, as well as half of Williams’s medical bills.

The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the convictions in 2003. Federal petitions for a writ of habeas corpus were denied in 2008.

By that time, West’s testimony on bite marks had been seriously undermined. Two men convicted in Mississippi based on bite mark testimony from West—Levon Brooks and Kennedy Brewer—were exonerated in 2008 by DNA testing. In Brewer’s case, what West called bite marks on the victim actually were insect bites.

In August 2008, the FBI responded to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Stubbs’s father, Alfred, requesting any documents relating to any analysis performed on the surveillance video from the Comfort Inn. The FBI reported that the prosecution had submitted the video, but that—in contrast to West’s testimony—FBI analysts only saw one person in the video, not two, and they could not say what that single person was doing. The FBI analysts could not tell what was being removed from the truck—and were certain that it was not a body as West testified.

In 2011, Stubbs and Vance, represented by the Mississippi Innocence Project, filed a petition for post-conviction review. The petition claimed the convictions should be set aside because West presented false evidence and because the prosecution had failed to disclose that results of the FBI analysis of the surveillance video. The petition also claimed that the trial defense attorneys had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to object to the prejudicial testimony regarding the relationship between Vance and Stubbs, and the testimony about homosexual violence.

In February 2012, West testified during a deposition for the case that he no longer believed his own testimony regarding bite mark evidence and that the existing science did not support bite mark identification. “When I testified in this case, I believed in the uniqueness of human bite marks. I no longer believe in that. And if I was asked to testify in this case again, I would say I don’t believe it’s a system that’s reliable enough to be used in court.”

Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Michael Taylor held a hearing on the petition for post-conviction relief on February 22 and 23, 2012. On June 27, 2012, Judge Taylor granted the petition, vacated the convictions of Stubbs and Vance, and ordered a new trial. The judge ruled that the failure to disclose the FBI report of its analysis of the surveillance video deprived Vance and Stubbs of a fair trial.

Judge Taylor did not address the admissibility or credibility of West’s testimony.

On June 27, 2012, nearly 11 years after they were convicted, Stubbs and Vance were released on bond pending a retrial.

On December 9, 2013, Stubbs and Vance pled no contest to a charge of possession of morphine—the Oxycontin pills that were in Williams’s purse—and were sentenced to time served. The prosecution dismissed the remaining charges. Stubbs’ conviction for possession was expunged in 2015. Also in 2015, Mississippi enacted a Medical Emergency Good Samaritan Act to shield individuals from low-level drug prosecution if they, in good faith, seek medical assistance for someone suffering an overdose.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/25/2018
State:Mississippi
County:Lincoln
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:Theft, Drug Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2000
Convicted:2001
Exonerated:2013
Sentence:44 years
Race:White
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No