House vs. Bell - Not a Typical Criminal Case

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In the case of House v. Bell, Paul Gregory House was arrested and charged with the murder of Carolyn Muncey. He was found guilty of murder with aggravating factors (attempt to commit rape) and was sentenced to the death penalty. This is NOT a typical criminal case. It was so extraordinary in the sense that a man was not only convicted of murder but sentenced to death as well on only circumstantial evidence.

The verdict, which found Paul House to be guilty of murder and sentenced to death was a product of discrimination, a violation of constitutional rights, and a contradiction of the main functions of the U.S. court system. The courts are compelled to practice the presumption of innocence. However, the impression that we get is that he was presumed guilty from the very start. The circumstantial evidence linking House to the murder of Carolyn Muncey may very well have been no different than the circumstantial evidence linking "witness" Billy Ray Hensley to the murder or any other neighbor within the proximity of the crime scene. The circumstantial evidence became so much stronger because House was a previous offender of the law and a new comer to the neighborhood. No one had grown up with him, and not many were able to testify to his character.

Mrs. Muncey disappeared from her home on the night of July 13 and was found bludgeoned to death the next afternoon on July 14, 1985. Her body was found in the underbrush in a creek bank on the side of Ridgecrest Road in Luttrell, Tennessee. She was in her nightgown , housecoat and underclothing. Her body was badly bruised, indicating that she was is a struggle and there were also some spots of semen found on her nightgown and undergarments. The cause of death was determined to be a blow to the left of her forehead and it appeared that she was strangled as well. Her husband was not home at the time of her disappearance.

Witnesses claim to have seen Paul House in the vicinity on the day her body was discovered and observed numerous scratches and bruises on his arms. One witness claims to have seen him coming up the creek bank while wiping his hands with a black rag, later thought to be the navy blue tank top he was wearing the night of her disappearance. The semen found on the victim’s clothing was from a male secretor the same blood type as House, a pair of House’s jeans were recovered from a laundry hamper at his girlfriend’s trailer with traces of blood on them, and at the sentencing the State informed the jury of House’s prior conviction of aggravated sexual assault which he plead guilty to in March of 1981.

After the sentence hearing the jury imposed the death penalty. “In their verdict they found that the State had established three aggravating circumstances, these being: (1) appellant had previously been convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person; (2) the homicide was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel; and (3) it was committed while appellant was committing or attempting to commit or feeling from the commission of rape or kidnapping.” With evidence to support these accusations, the jury found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

After his conviction, House submitted a direct appeal in Tennessee Supreme Court stating he had new evidence to prove his innocence. The court denied his appeal. House petitioned a second time for post-conviction relief in December of 1990 claiming that he had ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The court denied relief again “on the ground urged by the State: that all the issues presented had either been previously determined in the first petition or, if not, had been waived.”

In September of 1996, House filed a pro se habeas petition, which was finally amended by the district court. ‘House raised two issues in the briefs to this court: (1) whether the Tennessee state courts applied the state waiver rule in such a way that it constituted an adequate and independent state...
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