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Kirkdrick Austin

Other Texas plea exonerations
In the early morning hours of January 25, 2017, Daniel Glover heard the sound of glass breaking from the apartment below in Brookshire, Texas. Glover said he stood by the corner of a window that was wet with dew and saw three men carrying garbage bags to a white car, making trips back and forth.

After five minutes, Glover told his wife to call police. He then stood watching for perhaps as long as 15 more minutes before the car left. When police arrived, Glover said he had not seen their faces. Although the lighting was very poor, he saw that one had a beanie on his head and another wore faded jeans. He admitted that he was not wearing his glasses—which he needed for distance vision.

Not long after, a police car arrived with three men in handcuffs in the back seat—23-year-old Adrienne August, 22-year-old Christopher Stevenson, and 23-year-old Kirkdrick Austin. One by one, the men were taken from the police car and illuminated by police spotlights. Glover identified them as the three burglars.

All three were charged with burglary in separate indictments.

Prior to trial, August’s attorney, Zachary Coufal, challenged the identification. During a suppression hearing, Glover admitted he was unable to identify August in court. Nonetheless, the judge said the identification would be admissible at trial.

On May 15, 2018, August went to trial in Waller County Criminal District Court. The prosecution presented four witnesses—Glover, two Brookshire police officers, and the resident of the apartment that was burgled. Glover did not identify August in court. He admitted that he had identified the three men during the show-up in the apartment building parking lot by their height, builds, and some of their clothing, but not their facial features.

Officer Sheraz Khan testified that at about 2 a.m. he pulled over a white car driven by Stevenson for making an illegal U-turn. August was in the front seat and Austin was in the back. Khan said he was joined by officer Robert Ruiz. A search of the trunk revealed a crowbar, a bolt cutter, black gloves, and some clothing. Stevenson was ticketed for failure to have a driver’s license. August and Austin were going to be released, Khan said, when they were notified of the burglary that happened just a block away.

Ruiz said he left the scene to go to the burglary. When Glover said three men in a white car were involved, he radioed Khan. Khan handcuffed Stevenson and other police were summoned to pick up August and Austin. All three were brought in handcuffs to the apartment building parking lot, where Glover identified them. Ruiz and Khan both testified that Glover positively identified all three men.

Lisa Woods, the burglary victim, said that the burglars took televisions, jewelry, purses, a tablet, and video games. None of the stolen property was found in Stevenson’s car.

After one day of trial, the jury ended a full day of deliberation with a note saying they were deadlocked and unable to reach a unanimous verdict. They were sent home for the evening and told to resume deliberating the following day. When the jurors re-assembled, one of them said he had gone online to try to find photographs of the apartment building to see if he could determine what Glover’s view looked like.

The foreman declined to allow the juror to discuss his research and informed the trial judge. The jury was admonished not to allow the research to enter into its deliberation, and was allowed to continue deliberating. Just before noon on May 17, 2018, the jury convicted August of burglary. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

After the verdict, the juror sent an email to the prosecution offering his advice on how to improve the case to obtain guilty verdicts against Stevenson and Austin. In the note, the juror said he was still not 100 percent convinced of their guilt and that he had to take “a leap of faith” to vote guilty. The juror suggested that he had to force the evidence that was presented into a timeline that permitted a guilty verdict.

On August 28, 2018, Austin pled guilty to burglary and was sentenced to four years in prison. On March 19, 2019, Stevenson pled guilty to burglary and was sentenced to two years in prison. Austin was released on August 28, 2019. Stevenson was released on April 4, 2020.

Attorney Mandy Miller, who handled August’s appeal, argued that the identification procedure was impermissibly suggestive. In preparing the appeal, Miller checked out the police dashcam videos, which had been admitted at the pretrial hearing, but not at the trial itself. Based on the videos, Miller noted that the testimony of Khan and Ruiz that Glover had positively identified the men was not true.

On November 5, 2019, the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals reversed August’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that the identification procedure was in fact impermissibly suggestive.

The court noted that Ruiz’s dashboard camera footage showed him arriving at the scene of Khan’s traffic stop before he went to Glover’s apartment complex. After Ruiz arrived at the complex, outside of the camera’s frame, he was heard talking to another law enforcement officer and Glover. Discussing Khan’s traffic stop, Ruiz described the three men that were detained, the clothing they were wearing, and the white car they were in.

The appeals court noted, “These statements directly supplied the components central to Glover’s description of the individuals he had watched during the burglary and their car and therefore contaminated the reliability of his recollection.”

Ruiz then asked Glover if he could make an identification of the individuals involved in the burglary, and Glover said that he could identify them by their silhouettes.

“Considering the totality of the circumstances and the evidence presented at the suppression hearing, we conclude the show-up identification was impermissibly suggestive,” the appeals court ruled.

The appeals court also closely scrutinized the police videos and determined that Khan first stopped Stevenson, August, and Austin at 2:12 a.m. Glover testified that about five minutes after hearing breaking glass, he instructed his wife to use his cell phone to call police. The cell phone log showed that the call was made at 2:26 a.m.—14 minutes after the traffic stop. The court, noting that Glover testified that he watched the suspects for a total of about 20 to 25 minutes and that the first responding officer arrived at 2:42 a.m., concluded that none of the three men was involved in the burglary.

On November 15, 2019, the prosecution dismissed the charge against Austin.

In the meantime, Miller filed state writs of habeas corpus on behalf of Stevenson and August. On December 9, 2020, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted August’s writ and declared August factually innocent. On February 10, 2021, the Court of Criminal appeals granted Stevenson’s writ and declared him factually innocent as well.

On March 1, 2021, the prosecution dismissed the charge against Stevenson. On March 9, 2021, the prosecution dismissed the charge against August.

Austin received $182,083 in state compensation for his wrongful conviction on July 7, 2021. Stevenson received $169,583 that same day.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/4/2021
Last Updated: 1/26/2022
Most Serious Crime:Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2017
Sentence:4 years
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No