| Crime |

Innocence Project Believes Clay Chabot is Innocent, But Isn't Insisting. Not Yet.

Clay Chabot, not yet one of those technically exonerated by DNA evidence
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In an Unfair Park item I posted last week about the case of Clay Chabot, I quoted Susan Campbell, spokeswoman for the family of Galua Crosby. Chabot has served 21 years in prison for her Crosby’s 1986 murder.

Campbell wanted to express her family’s continued belief that Chabot is guilty and her feelings about The Innocence Project, which is representing Chabot in his efforts to prove he is innocent of Crosby’s murder.

Earlier this year, a post-conviction DNA test on semen found on Crosby’s body was matched to the DNA of Gerald Pabst, Chabot’s alleged accomplice. Pabst testified against Chabot after cutting a deal with prosecutors for his testimony in court. But Eric Ferraro, spokesman for the Innocence Project, wants to clear up misconceptions in Campbell’s comments.

“We have not said Clay is among the people exonerated by DNA,” Ferraro tells Unfair Park. “At this point, we have said that the DNA shows he was wrongfully convicted; the DA and the judge agreed. We have said we believe he is innocent, and we will see where the legal process takes us from here. We don’t believe there is evidence to retry him, but if this case does go to a jury a second time, we are confident he will be acquitted based on the overwhelming evidence that Pabst, not Chabot, committed the crime.”

Ferraro mentions specifically Campbell’s assertion that many people who have been exonerated by DNA have criminal backgrounds and thus may not be so “innocent.”

“I don’t believe Susan has gone through all 208 DNA exonerations to determine that ‘many’ have criminal backgrounds and ‘most’ have more than one prior crime,” Ferraro writes in an e-mail.

As pointed out in the paper version of Unfair Park earlier this summer, many exonerees -- whatever their backgrounds -- have been victims of police preconceptions and flawed identification methods.

Ferraro also wants to correct Campbell’s misconceptions about Chabot’s current living arrangements. She told the Unfair Park she believes the Innocence Project was paying his expenses. While the IP lawyers are representing him pro bono, Chabot’s bond of $500,000 was not paid for by the IP, nor does it pay his utility bills.

The home in Cedar Hill where Chabot is staying with his sister is owned by the investigator who worked on the case 20 years ago and now owns a bond company.

“He feels so strongly about in Clay’s innocence that he posted the money himself,” Ferraro says. “We have provided small amounts of money for gas and food. Clay cannot work, since he is confined to the house as a condition of bail.”

Far from being free to go about his business, Chabot cannot venture very far from the house without triggering an electronic monitor; he must ask for advance permission to visit his lawyer’s office.

“Our hearts go out to Susan and her family for their loss,” Ferraro says. “We work with many victims and victims’ groups around the country, and we respect their experience tremendously. We are sorry the DA’s office did not notify the victim’s family about the DNA results. They ordinarily do.”

Nor should the family have been led to believe all these years that Pabst too was in prison, he says. “The DA at the time should have notified the family about deal [for Pabst’s testimony],” Ferraro says.

As revealed in this story that appeared in the paper version of Unfair Park in September, prosecutor Janice Warder did not disclose to Chabot’s defense lawyer the “no-deal deal” she’d made in return for Pabst’s testimony. After Chabot’s conviction, murder charges against Pabst were dismissed. He was convicted of a misdemeanor theft for pawning Crosby’s radio. But this summer, Pabst’s alleged perjury finally caught up with him, thanks to a dab of DNA. --Glenna Whitley

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