Habeas in Focus
Cameron’s Habeas petition features substantial claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, and actual innocence. The petition is supported by more than 400 exhibits, including a swarm expert affidavits, affidavits from a number of jurors recounting their verdict, exculpatory affidavits from uncalled witnesses, exculpatory evidence suppressed by the Commonwealth at the time of trial, new scientific evidence of innocence, and much more.
The petition alleges that Cameron’s trial attorney was ineffective in two key ways. First, counsel failed to investigate the circumstances surrounding the police’s interrogation of Cameron while he was amnesiac and suffering from the effects of a traumatic brain injury while in the hospital just an hour after the accident. As a result, he failed to suppress statements Cameron made which were clearly inadmissible. This was a crucial failure: while Cameron did not say that he was driving, he still made incriminating statements which the prosecution took advantage of at trial. Had Cameron’s lawyer been effective, however, those prejudicial statements would never have reacher the ears of the jury–as they shouldn’t have, since Cameron was in no condition to be talking to the police when they questioned him in the first place. Ultimately, in view of the fact that Cameron’s statements formed a big part of the prosecution’s case, it is likely that he never would have been convicted had they been properly suppressed.
Second, counsel failed to investigate pivotal exculpatory evidence involving the driver’s-side seatbelt mechanism. Despite having conclusive evidence that Cameron was NOT belted for the accident, and despite being aware of evidence tending to show that the driver’s seat belt WAS in use for the collision, counsel never brought in an expert engineer to scientifically determine whether the driver did indeed wear his seatbelt for the crash. After being convicted in 2012, Cameron hired another lawyer to bring in just such an expert. The expert concluded that the driver DID wear his seatbelt during the collision. When juxtaposed against the undisputed evidence that Cameron was NOT belted for the crash, evidence proving that the driver was wearing his seatbelt proves that Cameron was not the driver. Clearly, had Cameron’s trial attorney presented this expert evidence to the jury, he would not have been convicted. Indeed, multiple jurors from Cameron’s trial have sworn under oath in their affidavits that the seatbelt evidence would have caused them to acquit Cameron.
The petition also alleges that the prosecution suppressed a variety of exculpatory evidence, most of which was not brought to light until two years after Cameron’s conviction, when a subpoena filed in a related civil case unearthed a wealth of previously undisclosed evidence. In all, the suppressed evidence could have been used to (1) impeach the Commonwealth’s two most important witnesses; (2) impugn the thoroughness and good faith of the police investigation by showing that they failed to follow up on known exculpatory evidence; and (3) definitively establish that neighbors did not respond to the accident in time for them to have seen the driver flee the scene. Moreover, Cameron has squarely accused the prosecution of concealing evidence regarding the governments handling of the driver’s-side airbag, which is the only piece of make-or-break biological evidence in this case. Specifically, Cameron has alleged that the Commonwealth tested the blood on the airbag for DNA, that it did not match him, and that this evidence has been buried. To this day, even after 8 years of proceedings, the Commonwealth has never divulged any details about what it did with the airbag.
Lastly, Cameron claims that he has made a showing of factual innocence sufficient to warrant his release. This showing consists primarily of the following: (1) eyewitness testimony and phone record evidence proving that Jacob Palmer left the party at the exact same time that Cameron and Jack did; (2) eyewitness testimony that Jacob Palmer asked the host of the part what he wanted from the store before he left (it was established at trial that Cameron and Jack were going to the store to buy rolling papers); (3) eyewitness testimony placing Cameron unconscious on the back seat of the vehicle following the crash; (4) eyewitness testimony that Jacob Palmer returned to the party hours later “breathing heavily acting really weird and sketchy”, and asking repeatedly about Cameron and Jack; and (5) the new seatbelt evidence, which multiple experts in the field of accident reconstruction have said conclusively proves that Cameron could not have been the driver. Other significant evidence of innocence is highlighted by a host of demonstrable lies and other inconsistent and incriminating statements that Jacob Palmer made to investigators as well as eyewitness testimony describes occasions where Palmer confessed his guilt to his then-girlfriend, Nicole Vaughn. As Cameron contends on habeas, and as this evidence clearly shows, any juror presented with all of this evidence would vote to acquit.
While habeas petitions are very rarely successful, Cameron’s case is compelling and provides for a strong sense of hope that the courts will recognize the injustice that permeates his conviction.