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New trial ordered for men charged as teens in 1985 death

Hartford

The Connecticut Supreme Court has ordered new trials for two men who were convicted more than three decades ago in the stabbing and beating death of a 65-year-old man.

The court found that Ralph “Ricky” Birch and Shawn Henning were convicted based in part on false testimony about blood stains on a towel that later were proven not to be blood.

Related: Authorities arrest suspect of 1986 sexual assault, murder in Maine

The men were teenagers when they were charged two years after the crime. Birch has been serving a 55-year sentence for felony murder and Henning 50 years.

Sixty-five-year-old Everett Carr, of New Milford, was killed Dec. 1, 1985. He had been stabbed 27 times, had his throat cut and suffered seven blows to the head.

Supporters say no evidence was ever found linking Birch and Henning to Carr.

The reversal of the convictions is based on false testimony given by forensic scientist Dr. Henry Lee. Below is some of what was in the court opinion SC20136: 

More specifically, the petitioner claims that his right to due process was violated because the assistant state’s attorney (prosecutor) failed to correct certain testimony of the then director of the state police  forensic laboratory, Henry C. Lee, concerning a red substance on a towel found in the victim’s home that, according to Lee, had tested positive for blood. In fact, no such test had been conducted, and, moreover, a test of the substance that was done for purposes of the present case proved negative for blood. 

Furthermore, 

Because we agree with the petitioner that, contrary to the conclusion of the habeas court, he is entitled to a new trial due to the state’s failure to alert the trial court and the petitioner that Lee’s testimony was incorrect, we reverse the judgment of the habeas court.

Additionally, 

Because the habeas court incorrectly reached a contrary conclusion, that court’s judgment must be reversed, and the petitioner must be afforded a new trial. The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded with direction to render judgment granting the habeas petition and ordering a new trial.

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