Houston defense attorney Randy Schaffer says the only solid evidence Harris County prosecutors had against his client in his 2002 capital murder trial was that he admitted to being present when his drug dealer was killed.
But then a jailhouse witness named Karl Jones took the stand, and he told the jury that, yes, actually, David Holford had confessed to committing the murder while they were sitting in the privacy of a holdover cell. Holford was convicted.
Jailhouse snitches are always a red flag to Schaffer, who says that in his 40-plus years of experience he has never once encountered jailhouse witness testimony used ethically in a capital case. There’s a certain irony about these jailhouse snitches: They are the most inherently unreliable witnesses, yet they are often testifying in the most high-stakes trials. Their testimony is generally only necessary when most other evidence against defendants is weak — yet those are also the cases in which a wrongful conviction is most likely.