One of our firm partners, Attorney Dan Lage, recently won a habeas case for a client. Below, Dan talks about the case, some of the challenges he faced with it, and his hope for future cases. If you or a loved one need help with a habeas corpus case, contact our office for more information.
The Home Invasion Case
State v. Lascelles Clue involved a home invasion occurring in Danbury, Connecticut. In 2009, a 78 year-old woman was alone in her home and in a wheelchair. She heard a knock at the door. When she answered the door, a man in a ski mask and hooded sweatshirt had a knife in his hand, put it to her throat, and demanded money. He saw a laptop on the kitchen table as well as some cash in her purse, grabbed them, and fled. No physical description was given by the victim other than the assailant “sounded black.” Mr. Clue was arrested the following day, because he was found with the laptop in his possession. Mr. Clue tried to tell law enforcement that he purchased the laptop a day earlier from a drug addict in the street, to no avail.
In 2011, Mr. Clue, with no prior criminal record, elected to exercise his right to have a trial by jury. He was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He appealed the case unsuccessfully and later filed a writ of habeas corpus.
Habeas Corpus Process
At Ruane Attorneys, we handle habeas corpus cases, which are, in a sense, appeals of criminal conviction. In 2015, Mr. Clue filed for habeas corpus and challenged the constitutionality of his conviction. These cases are very tough to win – some would say close to impossible.
Mr. Clue claimed in his habeas petition that he had his lawyer should have presented certain alibi witnesses as well as evidence pointing to a different person as being responsible for the crime. Amongst those alibis were his wife, Kelly, who claimed at the habeas trial that on the day of the crime, she and Mr. Clue spent the vast majority of the day together at home with their children.
Another alibi witness named Rob Mabowicz owned a local studio in Danbury where he and his friends would record music together. Mr. Mabowicz testified that in the afternoon on the day of the crime Mr. Clue was at the studio attempting to record music. These people were never called as witnesses, despite the fact that Clue’s trial lawyer knew about them and their version of events.
At the habeas trial, Mr. Clue’s wife and Mabowicz testified, credibly, that they tried to reach out to the lawyer, or that the lawyer never reached out to them. But, Mr. Mabowitz had something else to say: while at the studio that afternoon, he had seen another man named Ricky Lee. Ricky Lee had a little bit of blood on his shirt, and he was trying to sell a laptop to anyone who would offer to buy. Mr. Mabowicz testified that Mr. Lee did not have a good reputation and the laptop was likely stolen. Mr. Lee was somebody who Mr. Clue’s trial lawyer had been told about several times as perhaps being the actual perpetrator. He never followed up on that investigation so he never pointed the case toward Mr. Lee, which would have been an additional defense Mr. Clue never had the chance to employ.
The judge ultimately decided that was “deficient performance” on behalf of the trial lawyer. This is because these two alibi witnesses could have placed him somewhere else and since the actual evidence tying Mr. Clue to the crime was thin, this deficient performance prejudiced Mr. Clue. Thus, Mr. Clue was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. Because of that, he deserves a new trial. A fair trial. So the case was overturned.
And so that’s where we are. The convictions have been vacated, and Mr. Clue will have another chance, if he prevails on appeal, to have an actual jury trial where he can call his alibi witnesses and actually put on a proper defense.
I believe he’s innocent. I’ve always believed that, and he’s always expressed that. He’s always professed his innocence. Nothing has changed on that front. Mr. Clue is ready to try this case, and he’s ready to have his fair day in court, and we want to give that to him. He deserves a fair chance to defend himself against all the power and might of law enforcement and prosecutors. And so, I think given a fair shot, he’ll come out of this with a not guilty verdict, because I trust that a jury will agree that there is nowhere near enough evidence to convict this man of this crime.