Murder Case Could Set Precedent in 'Junk Science' Writs

Texas' highest court for criminal matters on Wednesday took up the issue of whether a state law that allows for new trials in cases where forensic science is flawed also covers mistakes by expert witnesses.

Clearly divided on the issue after it ruled last November for a new trial in a Montgomery County case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals quickly made it clear that Gov. Greg Abbott may decide the issue - if he signs into law a just-passed bill intended to affirm its earlier decision.

Either way, the complicated case could have significant impact on future cases - and is being watched nationally as one of the first such decisions on so-called "junk science" writs.

At issue is whether Neal Robbins, serving a life sentence for killing his girlfriend's 17-month-old daughter, Tristen Skye Rivet, should get a new trial because medical examiner Patricia Moore changed her autopsy decision from homicide to undetermined eight years after Robbins was sent to prison in 1999.

Texas' initial law allowing new trials in cases where junk science was confirmed - the first in the nation, passed in 2013 - did not cover instances where witnesses later recanted their testimony, as in Robbins' case.

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