Can I Get a Witness?

The District Attorney's Office gets the right guy for the wrong reason.

But law is different from nearly all other endeavors in at least one fundamental respect: The process matters as much as the outcome. Or to put it another way, you can't railroad a guilty man just because he's guilty. Regardless of whether his punishment was just, Freeman was basically coerced to confess after being implicated by the hearsay testimony of a man named Miguel whom no one seems to know much about.

Law professors the Dallas Observer asked to review transcripts of Freeman's trial are astonished at how the District Attorney's Office and felony prosecutor Shelley Hallman withheld news of the witness' sudden elaborations while basing their case on the alleged statements of an unknown man. Bennett L. Gershman, a law professor at Pace Law School in New York and a former prosecutor with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, could hardly believe Hallman failed to inform the defense about the witness' modified account.

"It seems like it's in bad faith; it seems like they're sandbagging the defense; it seems like they're overzealous in wanting to win the case at all costs. It stuns me that that is the way that this particular prosecutor would proceed in this particular case," says Gershman, who has also served as a visiting professor at Cornell Law School. "I can't think of any serious observer of the criminal justice system that would agree with what the prosecutor did here. I can't think of anything like this when the prosecutor goes with a case that is so shoddy and obstructs the defense counsel's ability to dispute this proof. The more I think about it, the more furious I get."

Shelley Hallman's husband is none other than Republican candidate for district attorney Toby Shook.
Mark Graham
Shelley Hallman's husband is none other than Republican candidate for district attorney Toby Shook.
Family law: Father-and-son defense lawyers Brian and Ed Gray believe their client was done in by a nonexistent witness.
Mark Graham
Family law: Father-and-son defense lawyers Brian and Ed Gray believe their client was done in by a nonexistent witness.

Interestingly, in 2004, Hallman was found to have asked a witness during sentencing an improper question about a rape charge that had been dismissed. A judge ruled for a mistrial, tossing out a conviction in the process, and prosecutors settled the case. Nevertheless, Hallman's job evaluations on file at the District Attorney's Office depict her as a bright, diligent, successful prosecutor, although other attorneys single her out as an overly aggressive lawyer who pushes the ethical envelope.

"In my opinion she's a very dangerous prosecutor," says attorney John H. Read, who recently went up against her and lost in a two-week trial during which he believes she had been coaching witnesses. "She wants to win so badly, she'll do whatever it takes to win. People forget that for district attorneys, it shouldn't be about winning, it should be about justice."

Then there's Ed and Brian Gray, who are even more caustic in their evaluation of the District Attorney's Office, particularly Hallman. Like Read, they know that it's considered impolite, if not bad for business, to openly lambaste a felony prosecutor such as Hallman in a system where defense attorneys' cozy relationships with members of the District Attorney's Office could result in favorable plea deals for clients. It won't exactly help the Grays that Hallman is newly married to Toby Shook, the high-profile prosecutor and Republican candidate for district attorney. But more than a year after the trial of Corey Freeman, they remain incensed over how she failed to turn over the key evidence before the trial. Worst of all, Ed Gray, himself a former prosecutor under renowned District Attorney Henry Wade, says Hallman should have known that her witness' story did not make any sense.

"There was never a Miguel, and Shelley knows it."


Almost immediately after Red's death, the police were closing in on his killer. A day after the murder, Priscilla Brewer told detectives about Freeman, who had been staying with his girlfriend, Schawana Johnson, at the Aspen Chase Apartments, located on Ferguson Road near LBJ Freeway. Johnson told Brewer that Freeman wanted to kill Red. He thought Red had broken into their apartment, because nothing was taken other than their crack. Both Freeman and Johnson believed that only Red knew where they kept their drugs.

Brewer told detectives that a few nights before Red's death, Freeman sent someone to look for Red, but with no luck. But two or three days later, Freeman found Red. Brewer told police that she saw exactly what happened that night.

"I was in my car, fixing to leave, and I saw Red walk past my car. Red turned the corner, and then I heard shots. I looked up and saw Corey shooting at Red. Corey fired two more shots. Red was running and ducking. I saw the flash from Corey's gun. I turned around the corner, and that's when I saw Red lying on the ground. Corey got into his car, a gray or silver Mustang, and took off out of the apartments."

Later, on the stand, she would admit that she couldn't, in fact, identify the people involved in the shooting, despite what she told police earlier. When she first talked to detectives, Brewer made it seem as though she had a front-row seat to a murder. She notes Freeman fired at least two shots. She recalls him getting into a "gray or silver Mustang." Yet nowhere in her statement to police does she bring up the mysterious Miguel, whom she later would claim was the real eyewitness. She doesn't even hint that she was with anyone. "I was fixing to leave," she said.

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