We’re in day 2 of the Manuel Velez innocence hearing in Brownsville, Texas. As we’ve previously explained, this case posed a dilemma because two adults were in a Brownsville home on Halloween 2005 when 11-month- old Angel Moreno was taken to the hospital unable to breathe. Both adults, Manuel Velez and Acela Moreno, the boy’s mother, pointed the finger at one another as the perpetrator. But no witness, physical, forensic, or other evidence suggests Manuel ever hurt this or any other child.
Nevertheless, to prove Manuel was the perpetrator – and convince a jury to sentence him to death – the state claimed that Manuel must have killed the child because the child only began showing evidence of injuries and abuse during the two weeks in which he (and his mother) lived with Manuel. Those two weeks ran up to the day the child was hospitalized.
At Manuel’s 2008 trial, the key to the state’s timeline theory was the testimony of, Dr. Norma Farley, a forensic pathologist. Farley stated in her trial testimony that the child’s injuries were all two weeks old or less.
Much of that changed today, dismantling the state’s timeline theory. Farley told the court today that various injuries occurred outside of the 14-day window when he lived with Manuel. First, she agreed with the neuropathologist, to whom she had sent the child’s brain for evaluation, that the child suffered brain injuries going back 18-36 days. That means those injuries had to have occurred while Manuel was in Tennessee working construction (from Sept. 10 to Oct. 14). Second, she conceded the child’s skull fractures could have been up to 20 days old. Third, she identified a scar on the child’s foot at the time of autopsy that was far more than two weeks old. The scar, Farley testified, appeared to be an intentional burn to the child’s foot.
Put all of this together with prior proof that Acela Moreno had admitted to biting and burning her child, and the only logical conclusion is that Manuel Velez is innocent and Acela Moreno guilty.
Farley’s testimony also shone a light on defense counsel’s woefully inadequate performance at Manuel’s trial. She testified that, if any lawyer for the state or defense had bothered to ask her the same questions she faced today, she would have disclosed that the child had injuries older than 14 days. Appallingly, Manuel’s trial counsel, who was charged with protecting his rights, never asked these questions.
So this hearing is not only about innocence, but about whether Manuel received the adequate assistance of counsel required by the Sixth Amendment. Farley’s testimony showed that counsel fell far short of what’s required.
The hearing continues tomorrow.