Murder Conviction Tossed Over Prosecutor’s Remarks

Dec. 4, 2019, 5:56 PM

A South Carolina man convicted of murder will get a new trial over comments made by the prosecutor over the role of defense attorneys.

The South Carolina Supreme Court decided Dec. 4 that the conviction should be tossed as the statements at issue “infected” the defendant’s trial with a level of unfairness that violated his due process rights. At issue were comments made by the assistant solicitor that the job of defense attorneys was to twist the truth and confuse jurors.

Oscar Fortune had been convicted of murder by a jury in 2006 for shooting a man a few years before. Fortune was sentenced to 37 years in prison on that charge.

He appealed his conviction due to statements made by the prosecutor during the trial’s closing arguments. The conviction was previously upheld before it made its way to the state’s highest court.

The South Carolina Supreme Court found that the prosecutor made “several blatantly improper comments” that rendered Fortune’s trial unfair.

Statements cited by the court included claims that prosecutors’ jobs were to present the truth, while defense attorneys were to “manipulate” and “shroud” the truth to confuse jurors. “Their job is to do whatever they have to—without regard for the truth” was among the comments highlighted by the court.

Statements such as those “infected Fortune’s trial with such a high degree of unfairness as to make his conviction a denial of due process,” the high court said in tossing the conviction.

The case is Fortune v. South Carolina, S.C., No. 27932, 12/4/19

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew M. Ballard in Raleigh, N.C. at aballard@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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