Judge recommends exoneration for Midland man serving life

Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 8:38 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2022 at 10:38 PM CDT
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MIDLAND, Texas (NEWS RELEASE) - A Midland County judge has recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Garland “Butch” Martin have his conviction vacated. Martin was convicted of three counts of capital murder in 1999 for the deaths of his wife and children and is currently serving three life sentences. At a hearing in May, the judge heard evidence that there were significant flaws in the forensic and medical testimony at trial. Martin is represented by the Innocence Project of Texas with assistance from students at the Innocence Clinic at Texas Tech School of Law.

“We are pleased and thankful that Judge Rogers, along with the District Attorney’s Office, is recommending reversal of Butch’s conviction,” said Allison Clayton, Deputy Director of Innocence Project of Texas, and Martin’s attorney. “This was a horrible tragedy compounded by a wrongful conviction. When science evolves, we must evolve with it. Science now tells us that we got it wrong; our ethics demand that we do whatever we can to make it right.”

In February of 1998, Martin’s wife, Marcia, their one-year-old daughter, and their three-year-old son died in a house fire. Despite being at a job site twenty minutes away on the other side of town when a neighbor spotted the fire and called 911, Martin was arrested and charged with their murders. During the trial, arson investigators testified the fire that killed Martin’s family was intentionally set due to the presence of what at the time was considered to be evidence of accelerants and the presence of a “pour pattern.”

At the hearing in May, Judge David Rogers heard testimony from world-renowned experts that the techniques used to investigate the fire in Martin’s case have since been rejected. After the conviction, scientists discovered that the alleged accelerants found in the fire debris are actually present in hundreds of everyday household products and are not indicative of an intentionally set fire. Likewise, what arson science once considered “pour patterns” are now known to be common in large fires. Every expert to look at the case, including the Fire Marshall of the State of Texas, has ruled that the fire was not intentional.

Innocence Project of Texas also presented evidence from multiple forensic pathologists establishing the medical testimony at trial was not accurate. Additionally, the doctor who testified against Martin later lost his medical license and served time in federal prison. The only other expert who testified against Martin submitted an affidavit to the court saying that after reading the transcript, he was “deeply disturbed” when he realized his testimony had been misconstrued. He indicated that he harbors “serious, soul-shaking doubts as to whether the jury understood my testimony” and that he “sincerely fear[s] the jury was unintentionally misled by my testimony in finding Mr. Martin guilty.”

After several months of work and research on its end, the Midland County District Attorney’s Office agreed with Martin that his conviction should be reversed.

Martin, who has always maintained his innocence, said “I loved my babies more than anything in the world. Being wrongly blamed for their deaths all this time is a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I will never be whole again, but I am beyond grateful to Judge Rogers for recommending reversal.”

Martin’s case will now be transferred to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, which will make a final ruling.

The Innocence Project of Texas is one of the leading innocence organizations in the nation, having exonerated or freed twenty-six people since 2006. IPTX’s Innocence Clinic at Texas Tech School of Law engages students in advancing IPTX’s mission of exonerating wrongly convicted Texans by providing first-rate legal counsel and investigative services at no cost.