The State Bar of Texas is pursuing a disciplinary action against a former Harris County assistant district attorney who allegedly struck deals with three jailhouse informants by offering leniency in exchange for testimony in a capital murder trial without notifying the defense.
The Bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline’s Sept. 25 petition, filed in a Harris County district court, alleges that Elizabeth A. Exley agreed to make favorable recommendations in the sentencing of two jailhouse informants and the parole hearing of a third if they testified against Edward George McGregor.
Exley served as a Fort Bend County special prosecutor in McGregor’s 2010 capital murder trial in which he was accused of murdering Kim Wildman in 1990. Before the trial, McGregor’s defense counsel had made a pretrial request for all exculpatory evidence, including any consideration given to witnesses in exchange for their testimony.
But Exley “failed to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense that the witnesses would receive or had received consideration in exchange for their testimony and allowed the witnesses to falsely testify to the contrary,” the petition alleges.
“When the witnesses were questioned about any agreements made with prosecution they each testified that they had not been promised anything in return for their testimony,” the petition alleges. The petition also alleges that Exley “failed to correct the false testimony of the witnesses regarding their agreements.”
McGregor was later sentenced to life in prison, but a state district judge ordered a new trial for him last year after finding that Exley failed to disclose her deals with witnesses.
Randy Schaffer, a Houston criminal defense attorney who represents McGregor and filed a grievance against Exley last year, said he is glad the Bar took the complaint seriously.
“Ever since I started practicing law in 1973, prosecutors have been making deals with witnesses, having them testify that there was no deal, and then rewarding them after the trial was over,” Schaffer said. “That is a practice that has continued unabated since I have been practicing law and it will never stop until prosecutors are held accountable.”
Schaffer notes that assistant district attorneys are rarely prosecuted themselves for presenting false testimony and there is no state law criminalizing the suppression of evidence by prosecutors.
“So where the criminal justice has not taken any steps to make prosecutors accountable, the only remedy left is through the State Bar,” Schaffer said.
Claire Mock, a spokeswoman for the Bar’s Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, declined to comment on Exley’s case.