22nd September 2023 – (New Milford) The state attorney general’s office announced on Wednesday its intention to appeal a federal court judge’s ruling that could result in a significant payout to two men who were wrongfully convicted for a 1985 murder in New Milford, Connecticut. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Victor Bolden stated that the state could face a potential payout of up to $60 million to Shawn Henning and Ralph Birch, who spent decades in prison before their convictions were overturned.
Attorney General William Tong’s office also defended its handling of the case, acknowledging an “unintentional neglect” in filing a crucial legal motion involving Dr. Henry Lee, the former head of the State Police Forensics Laboratory. Lee, who was found personally liable for fabricating evidence in the case, issued a statement in an attempt to salvage his reputation.
In a comprehensive 84-page decision released last Friday, Judge Bolden denied most of the state’s motions to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Henning and Birch. The two men were convicted in 1989 for the brutal murder of Everett Carr in his New Milford home four years earlier when they were teenagers. However, their convictions were overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2019, leading to the federal lawsuit against Lee, the state, several state police detectives, and New Milford police officers.
Judge Bolden has ordered the case to proceed to trial in October, holding Lee personally liable for his involvement in the murder investigation. This implies that Lee could face a separate multimillion-dollar verdict apart from the state’s responsibility.
Despite the ruling, Attorney General Tong’s office announced its intent to appeal, stating that Lee, as a former state employee, would be indemnified, and any judgment against him would be paid by the state. However, when asked about the handling of the case, Tong’s office did not provide further details or explanations.
The ruling by Judge Bolden also opens the possibility for a jury to find that state police detectives and New Milford police officers fabricated or concealed evidence that cast doubt on Henning and Birch’s guilt in the murder case.
A significant point of contention in the case revolves around whether there was blood on a towel found in Everett Carr’s second-floor bathroom. Lee, who was head of the State Police Forensic Laboratory at the time, testified in both trials that he found blood stains on the towel. However, subsequent testing in 2008 using modern technology revealed that there was no blood present.
Lee, in his statement released on Wednesday, maintained his position that he did test the towel and that it showed a positive result for blood. He referenced using a chemical test called Tetra methybenzidine (TMB) in the 1980s, which he claimed produced a positive reaction. Lee also mentioned that the towel was collected by state police detectives but never submitted to the lab for a confirmatory blood test at the time.
Judge Bolden, in his ruling, sided with the argument presented by Henning and Birch’s lawyers, stating that Lee had fabricated evidence by claiming to have tested the towel when, in fact, it had never been tested.
The appeal by the state attorney general’s office ensures that the legal battle surrounding this wrongful conviction case will continue. The outcome of the appeal and the subsequent trial will determine the final resolution and potential compensation for Henning and Birch, as well as the accountability of those involved in the flawed investigation.