Assistant District Attorney Kathryn Scales is confident Areli Escobar, an Austin man sentenced to death for the 2009 murder of 17-year-old Bianca Maldonado, received the appropriate conviction despite the Court of Criminal Appeals’ order last week to re-examine the case.
Escobar’s conviction relied heavily on DNA evidence from the Austin Police Department’s now-shuttered forensics lab, and Escobar’s latest appeal calls that testing into question. Scales was the prosecutor assigned to Escobar’s case through previous appeals, and she will continue overseeing the case. Despite her confidence, Scales told the Chronicle the D.A.’s Office is taking the claim seriously – as well as those from similar cases. Its conviction integrity unit has been working with the Capital Area Private Defender Service to send out hundreds of Brady notices to people whose cases could have been affected by the lab’s troubles. (Scales said Escobar did receive a notice, which “may have precipitated their appeal.”)
The CIU will handle the majority of post-conviction cases impacted by the lab’s closure. Those cases will “only be handed off to an appellate attorney if it appears that some sort of post-conviction litigation is needed,” explained A.D.A. Gregg Cox. Capital cases, however, are typically already assigned to an appellate attorney. Scales said the county’s response to Escobar’s appeal is due Feb. 15. She expects a judge to issue a recommendation as to whether he deserves a retrial in about a year.
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