WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court said Wednesday it will decide whether to overturn the decades-old convictions of seven men found guilty in a notorious 1984 gang murder in the nation’s capital.
The justices took up appeals from the men who say prosecutors failed to turn over evidence that could have shown they did not kill 48-year-old Catherine Fuller.
Police said Fuller was attacked on a street, dragged into an alley, beaten and brutally sodomized with a pole in a group attack by members of a loosely organized gang called the “Eighth and H Crew.” Her body was left in a garage.
The murder of Fuller, a mother of six, provoked fear and outrage in the District of Columbia at a time when the city was dealing with a soaring crime rate fueled by crack cocaine.
A jury in 1985 found eight males -several of them teenagers - guilty in Fuller’s death. One of them later died in prison.
The men tried to reopen the case decades later, saying prosecutors under intense public pressure to win a conviction withheld evidence favorable to the defense. They say the government withheld eyewitness accounts that two other men could have committed Fuller’s murder and other witness statements that Fuller was not murdered in a group attack.
A judge in 2012 refused to overturn the convictions, ruling that even if prosecutors should have turned over certain favorable evidence, none of it would have made a difference in the trial outcome.
A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling last year.
The Justice Department had urged the high court not to take the case, saying lower courts correctly ruled that the undisclosed evidence would not have undermined the jury’s verdict.
Six of the men appealing the case - Clifton Yarborough, Kelvin Smith, Charles Turner, Levy Rouse, Timothy Catlett and Russell Overton - received sentences of 35 years to life in prison. The seventh, Christopher Turner, was sentenced to 27 ½ years to life.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the spring.