Death row inmate's mother in painful waiting game
Sixty-six-year-old Joyce House is in a waiting game, and it's no fun. In fact, "it's hell,'' she says.
She's waiting to see if the state is going to appeal a ruling handed down Dec. 20 that orders condemned state prisoner Paul Gregory House, her son, to be released unless prosecutors begin a new trial within 180 days after the order becomes final. That ruling becomes final if the state attorney general's office does not appeal it by Jan. 22.
"I went to see Paul yesterday (Sunday) and I asked him if he was excited,'' Joyce House told me over the telephone Monday from her home in Crossville. "He said, 'No. I got excited when I won in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, and nothing happened.
" 'I got excited when I won in the Supreme Court, and nothing happened. Whenever they come and get me and say, 'you're going home,' I'll get excited.' ''
Paul Gregory House, who turned 46 on Dec. 19, was convicted in 1986 in Union County of the 1985 rape and murder of Carolyn Muncey. Prosecutors said semen in Muncey's underwear matched House's blood type. However, 15 years later, after House was sentenced to death in the killing, DNA determined that the semen was that of the woman's husband, Hubert.
Hubert Muncey also is said to have told two female acquaintances of murdering his wife and hiding her body in much the same manner as it was found.
In October 2004, six of the 15 members of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, said House is not guilty of murdering Carolyn Muncey. Eight other judges on the court at the time said in an appeal decision that House should be executed, while another judge said the condemned prisoner should at least be given a new trial. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-3, that DNA evidence from semen collected from Muncey's nightgown and underwear, along with other evidence, were strong enough that a jury would not have convicted Paul Gregory House.
U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr., issued the Dec. 20 ruling.
"I know he's innocent,'' Joyce House, who works at a resort in Crossville, said of her son. "I speak at different places, trying to tell his story. I live with it every day. For a long time, he didn't want anybody to know where he was. 'Just tell them that I am in Nashville,' he would say.
"I lived in Knoxville at the time and I told him I can't do that anymore. He said he didn't want me to suffer.''
But Joyce House said she doesn't get any boos when she speaks to different audiences about her son, who uses a wheelchair as a result of suffering from multiple sclerosis.
"A lot of people tell me they were on the fence about the death penalty, but after I speak, most of them agree that he shouldn't be put to death. Many of them have even signed some cards we sent to the governor last year urging that Paul be given a pardon. 'Are you for an innocent man being executed?' I ask them.''
Joyce House said her son has always maintained his innocence, but at the time he was convicted, DNA evidence wasn't available.
"The first time I saw him after he was charged, he looked at me and said he didn't do this horrible thing,'' she said. "I know he's telling the truth. If he saw a stray cat hungry, he would want to bring it home and feed it.
"Paul's a caring person. He's not the type that would hurt anybody.''
What about that, Gov. Bredesen? What about freeing House, or at least come out and say, you, too, believe that he should have a new trial?
Look at what the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said in 2004. Look at the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. Look at U.S. District Judge Mattice's ruling. What else do you need to free Paul Gregory House?
Hasn't he suffered enough? Hasn't his family, and especially his mother, suffered enough? As I have asked previously, what will others say about the state of Tennessee if we allow a man who is innocent of the murder charges against him to die in prison?
What will they say, and what will you say, Governor, if that happens?
Dwight Lewis is a columnist and member of The Tennessean editorial board. His column appears on Sundays and Thursdays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.