March 26, 2007
Despite high court ruling, man remains on death row
By BRAD SCHRADE, The Tennessean
Paul Gregory House does not look like a man who has won a victory in the
highest U.S. court.
The condemned inmate is confined to a 12-by-12-foot cell in the maximum
security wing of Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility prison in west
Nashville - the state prison system's sick ward.
House, 45, has spent nearly half his life on death row. Several years ago he
was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis that has stolen his strength, along
with part of his mind.
He is a man waiting to die, one way or another, for a murder he says he did
The U.S. Supreme Court isn't sure he committed it, either, ruling last year
that "conflicting testimony" that the jury did not hear might have provided
a reasonable doubt.
Yet, House remains under a death sentence, and the state continues to push
for his execution.
Meanwhile, his lawyers want a new trial to present fresh evidence, and his
mother and others are appealing for his freedom atthe state Capitol.
House himself spends most days lying in a narrow prison bed, staring at the
ceiling and four walls surrounding him. The little he gets around is by
wheelchair. He cannot shave himself because of hand tremors caused by the
He has stopped thinking about what life would be like if he was exonerated,
and appears to have lost all hope of freedom.
"There's nothing I really care about," he said in a recent prison interview.
"I don't believe it's going to happen. I just sit around in here, lay down
on my bed, watch the years go by."
DNA raises doubt
House stands convicted of killing Carolyn Muncey, mother of two young
children, in the rural community of Luttrell, 25 miles north of Knoxville,
on a muggy summer evening in 1985. The high court in its 5-3 decision last
year said that DNA evidence from semen collected from Muncey's nightgown and
underwear, along with other evidence, including new witness statements
pointing the finger at her husband as the killer, were strong enough that a
jury probably would not have convicted House.
"Although it is close, we conclude that this is the rare case - had the jury
heard all the conflicting testimony - it is more likely than not that no
reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt,"
the ruling said.
Still, the court said it was not conclusively exonerating House and that
some parts of the evidence against him supported an "inference of guilt."
The court's ruling has raised new interest in the Union County murder case.
State Rep. Mike Turner, a Democrat from Old Hickory, has asked Gov. Phil
Bredesen that House be granted a pardon in light of the DNA evidence and the
Supreme Court's decision.
Gov. Phil Bredesen's spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said Friday that he had not
formally responded to Turner's request.
"The governor is very aware of this case and he is currently reviewing it,"
In the interim, Turner is trying to convince fellow lawmakers to pass a
resolution on House's behalf or, at minimum, to draft a group letter in
support of House.
He said he has about 25 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who would
sign a letter. A death penalty opponent, Turner said his group has lawmakers
on both sides of that issue.
"They don't want an innocent man to die on death row," Turner said. "The
worst thing we could do is execute an innocent man on death row."
Turner said he was inspired to do something about House's case after reading
John Grisham's non-fiction bestseller The Innocent Man. The book details the
plight of a mentally ill Oklahoma man who was nearly executed before he was
exonerated, in part, by DNA evidence.
"I said, 'You know, by golly, you ought to do something,' " Turner said.
"People elect you to do what's right, not necessarily what's popular."
Meanwhile, in the courts, House's court-appointed attorney, Stephen
Kissinger, said the state had shown no interest in expediting the request he
filed last month for a new trial or his client's release. Kissinger said
state attorneys had thrown up a series of procedural issues as delaying
tactics to slow the process of House's appeal. He and others fear that House
could die from his disease before he gets a new trial.
"They want a chance to revisit all these issues they've already lost on and
bar anything that would allow us to argue for a new trial," Kissinger said.
The state attorney general's office represents local prosecutors in death
penalty appeals. Attorney General Bob Cooper declined through a spokeswoman
to be interviewed for this story.
His office last week filed court papers asking for a time to be set up when
the two sides and the judge can talk through the next steps in the case.
"And, though (House) persists in proclaiming that he is innocent, many of
the factual allegations supporting his claim have not yet been addressed by
this court," the attorney general's motion read.
House had prison record
House arrived in the northeast Tennessee community of Luttrell from Utah by
Greyhound bus in spring 1985. He was 23 and had just been released from a
Utah prison after serving five years for a rape conviction.
His mother had relocated to Knoxville after her marriage to House's father
had dissolved, and she had taken up with a local man, who raised tobacco and
Carolyn Muncey was a young mother of two living nearby with her husband,
Hubert Muncey Jr., who, official records would later say, was an abusive
alcoholic. House and his mother, along with her new husband, knew the Muncey
When Carolyn Muncey disappeared on a July night, her husband was suspected
the next morning. Her bloodied body was found on a nearby creek bank the
next day, but authorities in the small community quickly turned suspicion to
the outsider, House, who was fresh out of prison.
Evidence at the trial included a semen specimen collected from the dead
woman's nightgown, which an expert witness said was from a man with the same
blood type as House. Today's sophisticated DNA evidence testing didn't exist
at the time. The allegation that Muncey had been not only murdered but raped
led House to be sentenced to death.
In the late 1990s, DNA testing revealed that the semen was that of Hubert
Muncey. Other critical pieces of evidence in the trial were small stains of
the victim's blood that appeared on House's jeans. Jurors during the trial
did not hear that the samples were not from a bloody struggle the night of
the killing, but from corrupted or sloppy evidence-gathering - the blood
samples that ended up on House's jeans had been taken during Carolyn
Five witnesses came forward many years later and gave testimony that
implicated Hubert Muncey. All of them were friends or acquaintances of his,
and longtime residents in the area with no apparent allegiances to House,
according to court records.
Two said the husband tearfully confessed at a party in 1985, around the time
of House's trial, that he accidentally killed his wife during an argument in
their kitchen, then disposed of the body to avoid going to jail.
One other woman said she saw House arguing with his wife after she showed up
at a dance, and that he hit her. Another woman said that, the morning after
the killing, with Carolyn Muncey still missing, Hubert Muncey asked her to
lie and provide a false alibi if anyone asked where he was the night of the
House's mother has visited the oldest of her two sons, whom she knows as
"Greg," in prison in Nashville every month, sometimes twice a month, since
he was sentenced to die in 1986. The disease in recent years has
aggressively attacked his voice and memory, making it hard for him to carry
a sustained conversation.
"I can go see him tomorrow, and go back next week, and he wouldn't remember
that I was there last week," said Joyce House, his mother, who now lives in
Crossville. "But there is one thing he doesn't forget - that's he's
innocent. He'll always say, 'I'm in here for a crime I did not commit.' He
says that every time I go see him."
TIME LINE OF CASE
July 13, 1985
Carolyn Muncey is killed in Union County, Tenn.
July 14, 1985
Paul Gregory House is questioned about the killing and later arrested.
House is tried and convicted of first-degree murder. He is sentenced to
June 28, 2005
U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear case.
January 11, 2006
U.S. Supreme Court hears House appeal.
June 12, 2006
U.S. Supreme Court rules that, if jurors had heard then what is known now,
they probably would not have convicted House. The case is sent back to
federal court in Knoxville, and House remains in prison.
Jan. 30, 2007
State Rep. Mike Turner sends letter to Gov. Phil Bredesen asking him to
pardon House based on new evidence.
Feb. 6, 2007
House's attorney files additional papers asking for a new trial or his
Source : The Tennessean