A man who spent almost 10 years on Death Row before his capital murder conviction was overturned died Saturday in a one-vehicle rollover crash in Cherokee County in East Texas. [Note from TMN: Ricardo Aldape Guerra also died in a car crash in 1997 four months after his release after spending 14 years on Texas Death Row for a crime he did not commit.]
Michael Roy Toney died one month after his release from jail after the state’s decision not to retry him in the 1985 bombing deaths of three people in a Lake Worth trailer.
A spokeswoman for O’Melveny & Myers, the California law firm that handled Toney’s successful appeal, said Sunday night in a written statement that lawyers are saddened by his death.
"Our thoughts are with his family and many friends who supported him in his fight for justice," the statement said.
The accident occurred at 11:05 a.m. as Toney, 43, drove south on Farm Road 347 in a 2000 Ford F-250 pickup, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. The truck veered off of the east side of the road and rolled.
Toney, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected, the report said.
A local judge pronounced Toney dead at the scene.
A supporter of Toney wrote in an e-mail Sunday that Toney was driving to his house in Rusk when he rounded a curve and "didn’t make it." The truck rolled on top of him, the message said.
On Death Row, Toney relentlessly protested his 1999 conviction for the bombing, one of Tarrant County’s most notorious crimes. On Thanksgiving 1985, Angela Blount, 15; her father, Joe Blount, 44; and her cousin Michael Columbus, 18, died when a bomb in a briefcase exploded.
Susan Blount, Angela’s Blount’s mother, who survived the blast, said when contacted by the Star-Telegram on Sunday night that she had not been notified of Toney’s death. She said she still believes that Toney was guilty of the bombing.
"If this is Michael Toney who died, then I can finally say it is over with," she said. "And I don’t have to worry about Michael Toney anymore. . . . It is going to take me some time to process this."
The case went unsolved for 14 years until a Parker County jail inmate told authorities that Toney confessed while serving time there on unrelated charges. The prisoner soon recanted, saying he made up the story to win early release.
No physical evidence connected Toney to the bombing. He was convicted largely on the testimony of his ex-wife and former best friend, who said they saw him plant the bomb.
Another prisoner, who also later recanted, testified that Toney told him that he was paid $5,000 to plant the bomb but that he left it outside the wrong trailer.
Later, Toney’s defense team uncovered 14 documents that Tarrant County prosecutors withheld from his defense during the trial, including records suggesting that investigators may have crafted witnesses’ accounts.
His attorneys have called Toney’s conviction one of the most "egregious cases" they have seen.
In December, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Toney’s conviction, saying his trial was unconstitutional because Tarrant County prosecutors improperly withheld evidence.
The Tarrant County district attorney’s office recused itself from the case. In September, the Texas attorney general dropped the charges against Toney but retained the option to retry the case after further evaluation of the evidence.
Toney was released from jail Sept. 2.
An official with Autry Funeral Home in Jacksonville confirmed Sunday that it is handling Toney’s funeral but that no dates have been set.
On Sunday, a supporter wrote in an e-mail that in his one month of freedom Toney was painting his house in Rusk. He had also bought a pickup and gotten a dog from an animal shelter.
"Michael really enjoyed living out in the country, and he was a country boy at heart," the e-mail said. "His future looked very promising."
Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) is a non-profit organization with the primary goal of mobilizing statewide support for a moratorium on executions in Texas. Significant death penalty reform in Texas, including a moratorium on executions, is a viable goal if the public is educated on the death penalty system and is encouraged to contact their elected representatives to urge passage of moratorium legislation.
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