Prosecutors know that every step and every piece of evidence in a legal process must be properly followed and accounted for to secure a conviction in a criminal case. Missing pieces in this equation can lead to cases going off the rails. Just look at the case of an Oregon man, whose conviction for manslaughter was overturned last year because certain evidence was not introduced at his trial nine years ago.
Released from prison in December 2019, Nicholas McGuffin served nine years of a 10-year-prison sentence stemming from the death in 2000 of his 15-year-old girlfriend Leah Freeman in Coquille. McGuffin had long maintained his innocence. An Oregon circuit judge overturned his conviction upon learning that the Oregon State Police crime lab did not reveal that it found the DNA of another man on the victim’s shoe. This crucial evidence, Judge Patricia Sullivan concluded, may have led to McGuffin’s acquittal by the jury that convicted him in 2011.
DA decides not to retry case
However, Judge Sullivan noted that overturning McGuffin’s conviction did not establish his innocence. The court then remanded the case to the Coos County district attorney’s office, which declined to retry McGuffin.
Here is some background in the case. In June 2000, the victim disappeared, and authorities found her body five weeks later. McGuffin was 18 at the time. Authorities investigated McGuffin but found no physical evidence linking him to the crime.
The case went cold, but a new police chief in Coquille reopened the investigation in 2008. McGuffin was among the suspects investigated once again, and authorities charged him with murder in 2010. The jury convicted him of manslaughter the following year.
McGuffin files civil rights lawsuit
In 2014, the Oregon Innocence Project – a nonprofit that advocates for those wrongly convicted – took up the case in representing McGuffin. After the nonprofit asked that authorities re-examine the evidence, they learned that the Oregon State Police had not disclosed the DNA evidence found on one of the victim’s shoes.
McGuffin’s case continues, though. In July of this year, he filed a lawsuit, claiming his civil rights were violated. Among the several defendants include the city of Coquille, city of Coos Bay, Coos County and the Oregon State Police.