How can a man who so many judges believe is innocent still be executed?
The case involves the murder of Carolyn Muncey, a Tennessee woman who was brutally beaten to death nearly 20 years ago. House was convicted, and has been on death row ever since.
But after new evidence emerged, his case was taken to the U.S. Court of Appeals, a panel of 15 federal judges. Eight of them ruled House was guilty and should be executed. However, six of them said he was innocent and should be set free. A seventh judge called House's case "an authentic whodunnit," and said he should have a new trial.
So, you be the judge. Who killed Carolyn Muncey? Correspondent Ed Bradley reports.
On the afternoon of July 14, 1985, Muncey's body was found under a brush pile in a ravine less than 100 yards from her home in Luttrell, Tenn.
She had disappeared the previous night, while her two kids slept and her husband was out drinking at a local dance. She'd been killed by a blow to the head, and there were signs of a fierce struggle.
At first, people around Luttrell whispered they'd seen it coming -— that Hubert Muncey Jr., a drunk known for giving his wife black eyes and bruises, had gone too far.
But within days, Union County police arrested Paul Gregory House, a 23-year-old paroled rapist from Utah who had just moved to Tennessee and was friendly with the Munceys.
Paul Phillips prosecuted the case in 1986. He says House became a suspect the day after the murder, when he inadvertently led a witness to the body.
"This witness is out in his car, searching for some sign of Carolyn Muncey, and he sees House come up this bank. When he came up the bank, he's carrying this black cloth. And we believe that that was his shirt that he had lost from the night before," says Phillips. "That's why we think he went back to the body. This witness went back to that very spot and discovered her body under the bank hidden under brush."
House told police he'd been home the entire night. But his live-in girlfriend, Donna Turner, blew his alibi, saying he left their trailer-home about 10:30pm to go for a walk, and was gone a little over an hour.
"According to Donna Turner, when he came back to the house that night, he was exhausted. He was panting. He was sweating. He had no shirt. He had no shoes," says Phillips. "His hand was all swollen up. He had scratches on various parts of his body. I mean, that's significant. You don't get that in ordinary activities."
He told Turner that he'd been jumped by two men in a pick-up truck, and that one of them fired a gun at him as he ran through the woods to escape. His lies, physical injuries and incredible story made House the prime suspect. But the case was still entirely circumstantial.
Eventually, what did him in was the forensic evidence: semen stains on Muncey's nightgown, and what looked like blood on House's jeans. The clothes and samples of Muncey's blood were boxed up and sent to the FBI lab in Washington D.C. for analysis.
At the trial, an FBI serologist delivered the coup de grace. He testified that the semen found on Muncey's clothes came from someone with the same blood type as House.
This happened before DNA testing, so he couldn't say for sure that it was House. But he also testified that the blood found on House's jeans was consistent with Muncey's blood.
The jury took less than four hours to convict House of first degree murder. House has been on Tennessee's death row ever since. In the last few years, he's developed severe symptoms from multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair. He also has difficulty speaking.
Bradley asked House if he killed Carolyn Muncey. "No," says House, who denies having anything to do with the murder.
Why should we believe him? "I can't tell you any reason," says House. "Other than I'm telling you the truth."
Steve Kissinger of the federal public defender's office in Knoxville was assigned House's case in 1997. He says there are big problems with the prosecution's timeline, which was just over an hour.
During that period of time, Mr. House would have had to have walked almost two miles to the victim's house, lured the victim from her home, raped her, killed her, hidden her body and walked two miles back to his girlfriend's house," says Kissinger.
Kissinger is also skeptical about the testimony of the witness who says he saw House at the scene of the crime the day after the murder. To demonstrate, he took 60 Minutes to the spot where the man identified House coming up the embankment. We had someone stand down there for reference.
Bradley said he could see someone standing there, but he couldn't identify the person. What does that mean?
"The witness claimed that he was able to identify Mr. House from seeing him from (that) distance," says Kissinger. "No binoculars, nothing else. And in addition, he wasn't standing still like we are now. He was rolling down the road at the time. He says he just glanced over there and saw Mr. House, and was able to identify him. It just didn't happen."
Then, Kissinger began investigating persistent rumors around town that police got the wrong man. And he quickly found a half dozen witnesses who implicated Muncey's husband, Hubert.
The most shocking accounts came from Kathy Parker and Penny Letner, two sisters who've lived in Luttrell and known the Munceys all their lives. They say that several weeks after the murder, Hubert came to Parker's home drunk, and confessed to the crime. Parker admits she was drinking, too. But Letner, who's on oxygen for a lung disease, says she was stone cold sober.
"He set down and started talking. And he was crying and all. And he said, 'I didn't mean to do it,'" recalls Letner. "He said, 'We got into an argument and I smacked her,' and he said, 'She fell and hit her head.' He said, 'I had to get rid of the body, because I didn't wanna go to jail for it.'"
Could they have misheard what he said? "No, I wished I could have," says Parker. "But no, I know what he said."
The next day, Parker said she went to police to tell them what happened, and a deputy directed her to the courthouse. But she says no one was interested in what she had to say, even though House was in custody and his trial was getting under way.
She says she sat there for two days, but, "They didn't come get me."
"They didn't wanna hear nothing different," says Parker, who says she's speaking out about it now because. "It's only fair that the people hear the facts, the facts that were left out."
She believes there's an innocent man -– House -– on death row.
Four more witnesses provided evidence against Hubert Muncey. By now, Kissinger was so convinced his client was innocent, he ordered state-of-the-art DNA testing on all the forensic evidence.
The first results were vindication. The semen stains on Muncey's nightdress did not come from House, but from her husband. This time, it was the prosecution that had some explaining to do.
If House didn't rape Muncey, what was his motive then for killing her?
"Well, what other motivation could there be to lure a person away from her children, take her to a remote location, and then inflict those injuries on her?" asks Phillips. "I don't think he succeeded in this sexual attack. ...What I'm saying is, his motivation was rape, and that she fought him."
Rape was also one of the reasons the jury sentenced House to death. So, armed with DNA evidence exonerating him of that crime, Kissinger went to federal district court to demand his client be taken off death row.
But by this time, he had to contend with an additional DNA result much less favorable for House. It turns out the blood on House's jeans was definitely Muncey's. Phillips says the blood on the pants is the best evidence they have.
So how could the blood have gotten on the jeans? "It couldn't leak during transit," says Kissinger. "It could've been placed there intentionally."
The jeans, and the blood samples that were put in a Styrofoam container, were transported in one big box. The prosecution concedes some blood did spill from one of the vials, but says it happened after the FBI finished its tests.
But the defense says when they received the evidence, there was an another vial of blood that was nearly empty, and that blood remains unaccounted for.
In court, opposing experts fought over the meaning of all this. But in the end, Kissinger believed he'd proven that the blood evidence was, at best, unreliable.
But the federal judge didn't see it that way, and ruled that the new evidence was too little, too late. The judge said while the DNA may not have come from House, the defense did not disprove the state's theory that house lured Muncey outside in order to rape her.
As for the new witnesses, the judge said 13 years is too long to wait to tell their stories.
Kissinger brought his case to the second highest court in the country, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which came away divided. Eight of the judges, the majority, affirmed the guilty verdict. But six thought he was completely innocent and should be released.
In their dissenting opinion, those six judges essentially accused Hubert Muncey Jr. of murder. So 60 Minutes tracked him down to get his side of the story. Muncey reluctantly admitted that back then, he wasn't the perfect husband. But he says he stopped drinking 10 years ago, and has found religion.
He denied hitting his wife when he was drunk. "You never hit her, not once?" asks Bradley.
"Well, not except when she called me a bad name or something," says Hubert Muncey. "Smack her, backhand her, or something, you know? But nothing serious."
"There's some people around here who say that you killed her," says Bradley.
"Oh, no, no sir," says Hubert Muncey.
"Why would they say that?" asks Bradley.
"I have no idea, sir," says Hubert Muncey.
But one reason people would think he did it may have been his arrest record, which lists 19 incidents through 1996. Most were for public drunkenness, but some were more serious, including assault, stalking, even beating up two police officers.
So Bradley asked him again about his alleged confession: "You never said anything to these two women. You never went to them in tears and said, 'I made a mistake. It was an accident.'"
"No, sure didn't," says Hubert Muncey. "They have to be making it up."
But Parker and Letner say he's lying. "We have no reason to make up anything," says Letner. "We were born and raised around him and his family. And there's no reason to tell a lie about this."
Now, House has one last chance. Next month, his attorney will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take House's case.
Kissinger will argue that under current law, it is nearly impossible for a convicted felon to prove his innocence, even with compelling new evidence.
"This man will die for the crime of which he has been convicted. Are you sure you got the right man?" Bradley asked Phillips.
"I am sure that we have the right man. In my opinion, whether or not he dies is up to him," says Phillips. "And if this man were to ever take responsibility for what he did and express remorse, I am sure the governor would give serious consideration to commuting his death sentence."
What does House have to say to that? "Well, you don't really want to know what I have to say about that," he says. "They can go to hell." Even if his sentence were commuted, "I don't really have any life left," says House.
"So if you don't really have any life left, and they say you did it, why don't you admit and say, 'I did it?'" asks Bradley.
"Because I didn't do it," says House. "I don't want to be remembered for something I didn't do."