Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Suspect Michael Toney's death won't end investigation of bombing, attorney general's office says

The Texas attorney general will continue to investigate the 1985 bombing deaths of three people in Lake Worth despite the weekend death of the main suspect, a spokesman said Monday.

Michael Roy Toney, whose 1999 conviction and death sentence for the bombing were overturned last year, died Saturday when his pickup crashed in East Texas, authorities said.

Toney’s conviction was overturned in December because Tarrant County prosecutors improperly withheld evidence favorable to his defense during his trial. The attorney general’s office began reviewing the case in January after the Tarrant County district attorney’s office recused itself.

Toney and his attorneys have long insisted that he was innocent and that the real bomber remained free.

Jerry Strickland, the attorney general spokesman, wrote in an e-mail Monday that the attorney general’s office "is fully committed to thoroughly investigating the 1985 murders.  . . . That investigation continues."

Asked whether the investigation could include the pursuit of other suspects, Strickland wrote that "evidence will dictate the direction in the case and possible suspects."

A spokeswoman for O’Melveny & Myers L.L.P., the California-based law firm that handled Toney’s successful appeal, said Tuesday that the firm declined to comment on the investigation.

However, relatives of the bombing victims remain steadfast in their belief that Toney was guilty. Susan Blount, whose daughter Angela Blount, 15, and husband Joe Blount, 44, died in the bombing, said she considers Toney’s death the end of the case.

"I don’t mean to bring religion into this, but God works in mysterious ways," Susan Blount said. "He got out of prison, and he should not have gotten out of the prison."

Toney was released from jail one month before his death. The attorney general’s office dropped the charges against him, saying it needed more time to examine the evidence. The attorney general’s office, however, retained the right to retry Toney later.

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 witness testified that Toney told him that he was paid $5,000 to deliver the bomb but that he left it outside the wrong trailer. That witness later recanted.

During an appeal, Toney’s defense team uncovered 14 documents that were withheld from his defense during the trial, including records suggesting that investigators could have crafted witnesses’ accounts.

Susan Blount said her son, Robert, who received serious burns in the bombing, was relieved that he did not have to testify at another trial.


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