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Camm v. Faith

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

September 10, 2019

David R. Camm, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Stanley O. Faith, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued October 30, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, New Albany Division. No. 4:14-cv-00123 - Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Sykes and Barrett, Circuit Judges.


         This case arises from a heinous triple murder that occurred almost 19 years ago in Georgetown, Indiana, a small town near the Kentucky border. The plaintiff is David Camm, a former state trooper who was twice convicted of the crimes but was acquitted after a third trial. He then filed this suit for damages for the years he spent in custody.

         There are many factual disputes. Construing the evidence in Camm's favor, as we must at this stage, the claims center on the following version of events. Camm came home on the night in question and found his wife and two young children shot to death in the garage. Two days later law-enforcement officers obtained a warrant for his arrest, relying almost exclusively on the observations of Robert Stites-a plainly unqualified forensic assistant who was not trained to do anything more than photograph evidence. Taking a far more active role in the investigation, Stites told the investigators that several bloodstains on Camm's T-shirt were "high velocity impact spatter," indicating that Camm was present and in close proximity when one or more of the victims was struck by a bullet. Investigators and prosecutors exaggerated Stites's qualifications in a probable-cause affidavit and at trial, and a jury found Camm guilty. The judgment was reversed on unrelated grounds, and on retrial Camm was again convicted. That judgment too was reversed. A jury found him not guilty the third time around. He was released after 13 years in custody.

         This lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 followed. The defendants are several investigators, two prosecutors, and Stites and his boss, who backed up his assistant's opinions. Camm alleges that the defendants willfully or recklessly made false statements in three probable-cause affidavits that led to his arrest and continued custody while he awaited trial and retrial. Though the parties and the district judge referred to this as a claim for malicious prosecution, we've since explained that "malicious prosecution" is the wrong label. It's a Fourth Amendment claim for wrongful arrest and detention. The suit also raises a claim of evidence suppression in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Finally, Camm alleges that the defendants deprived him of a fair trial by inducing the real killer Charles Boney to give a false account implicating him in the murders. The judge entered summary judgment for the defendants.

         We reverse in part. Camm presented enough evidence to proceed to trial on the Fourth Amendment claim, but only as it relates to the first probable-cause affidavit. A trial is also warranted on the following aspects of the Brady claim: whether some of the defendants suppressed evidence of Stites's lack of qualifications and their failure to follow through on a promise to run a DNA profile through a law-enforcement database to check for a match. In all other respects, we affirm the judgment.

         I. Background

         Camm appeals from a summary judgment, so our account of the facts considers the evidence and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to him. Leaver v. Shortess, 844 F.3d 665, 668 (7th Cir. 2016). In other words, our factual narrative reflects Camm's theory of the case to the extent that the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to credit it.

         In the fall of 2000, Camm had recently resigned his job as an Indiana State Trooper to pursue another line of work. On the evening of September 28, he went to his church to play basketball. Ten other players can attest that he was at the gym from around 7 to 9:25 p.m. On arriving home Camm discovered his wife, Kimberly, lying in a pool of blood on the garage floor. She had been shot in the head. He then found his two children-seven-year-old Bradley and five-year-old Jill-in the backseat of his wife's Bronco. Brad had a gunshot wound to the chest; Jill was shot in the head. All three were dead. Camm thought Brad might still be alive, so he reached over Jill's body, pulled his son from the Bronco, and began performing CPR. As he removed Brad's body from the car, some of Jill's blood ended up on the front of his T-shirt.

         After a futile attempt to resuscitate his son, Camm called the Indiana State Police. Stan Faith, the elected Floyd County prosecutor, arrived at about 10 p.m., and he soon took control of the investigation. Faith made an immediate decision to hire Rodney Englert, a private forensics analyst based in Oregon. Englert specializes in blood-spatter analysis, a subjective field he now admits is only partly scientific.

         Englert wasn't able to travel to Indiana right away, so he sent his assistant Robert Stites. Englert told Faith that Stites would be there only to document evidence and take photos. That limitation was well-founded: Stites has since admitted that he is not a crime-scene reconstructionist, has never taken a basic bloodstain-analysis course, and has almost no scientific background of any kind.

         Nonetheless, Stites did far more than photograph. He told the investigators that the blood on Camm's shirt was "high velocity impact spatter" ("HVIS"), which occurs only in the presence of a gunshot. Rather than wait for Englert to analyze the pattern in person, Stites called his boss and described the spots of blood over the phone. The parties dispute what Englert said in response: Englert testified in deposition that he never would have confirmed Stites's finding over the phone. Stites, however, testified that after he described the spots, Englert agreed that it met the criteria for HVIS. Either way, Stites returned from the phone call and told the investigators that he was 100% certain about his HVIS finding.

         He then went further, finding HVIS bloodstains on the garage door, shower curtains, breezeway siding, a mop, and a jacket. In hindsight only the stain on the T-shirt turned out to be blood, much less HVIS. Stites also told the officers that given its viscosity, he could tell that the blood was manipulated by a high pH cleaning substance. He said this even though he had never been to a crime scene where fresh blood was present. Nor had he ever seen serum separation, the natural and innocent phenomenon that actually explained the blood's viscosity. Jim Niemeyer, the most experienced detective on the case, quickly realized that Stites was not qualified and did not belong at the crime scene. But when Niemeyer ran his concerns up the chain of command, he was told that Stan Faith wanted Stites to be involved.

         Meanwhile, lead case officer Sean demons was interviewing Camm's aunt and neighbor, Mrs. Ter Vree. She told him that between 9:15 and 9:30 p.m.-roughly the time Camm returned from playing basketball-she heard three loud noises that sounded like someone pounding a fist on a car. She did not tell demons that the noises sounded like gunfire, nor did she ever think they did. Soon after Camm's arrest, demons became aware that Camm had punched his tailgate several times when he discovered his murdered family.

         Crucially, Faith and the investigators also found a prison-issue sweatshirt in the garage. A nickname was written on the collar. Most people involved in the case agree that it said "Backbone," but demons and Faith insist it could have said "Rack One." The Indiana Department of Corrections has a database of inmate nicknames, but Faith claims he was not aware of it at the time. Regardless, no one checked with the Department to try to match the nickname to a former prisoner. The final important piece of evidence at the scene was a palm print on Kimberly Camm's car. At the time the investigators did not think the fingerprints were clear enough to run through their system for a match.

         Faith wrote a probable-cause affidavit for Camm's arrest, which demons signed. The facts recounted in the affidavit were largely drawn from Stites's unqualified observations. In addition, the affidavit stated that Mrs. Ter Vree heard "three distinct sounds that can be interpreted as gunshots" around the time Camm returned home from the church. But she never said that. A judge approved the warrant, and Camm was arrested and charged with murdering his wife and children. The investigation continued, and Faith consulted with other blood-spatter analysts regarding the blood on Camm's shirt. All agreed with the initial HVIS finding.

         Before trial Michael McDaniel, Camm's attorney, had the "Backbone" sweatshirt tested by an independent lab in Minnesota. The lab discovered a DNA profile on the shirt. The Indiana State Police maintains a DNA identification database called CODIS, but defense attorneys cannot access it. McDaniel took the DNA profile to Faith and asked him to run it through the database. Faith agreed to do so. After McDaniel called back several times to get the results, Faith told him that nothing came up. In reality Faith and demons never ran the test at all.

         In January 2002 Faith tried the triple-murder case to a jury, though the jurors were selected from Johnson County because of extensive pretrial publicity. Stites and Englert were among his key witnesses. Stites testified that he was a crime-scene reconstructionist and was working on his master's degree and Ph.D. in fluid dynamics. Throughout the trial Faith repeatedly referred to Stites as "professor." Stites also told the jury that he had investigated homicides for the Army, Naval Intelligence, and the FBI.

         Those statements were indisputably false. To start, Stites is not a crime-scene reconstructionist. He has never pursued a degree in fluid dynamics. In fact, he has never taken a single course in the field. His only degree is in economics, and while he did take a single chemistry course in college, he flunked it. His education and training are so thin that Faith had to talk him through the scientific method (such as it was) prior to trial. Moreover, while Stites claimed to have advised the nation's top intelligence agencies, he had never processed a single homicide scene before this one.

         Nonetheless, Camm's counsel chose not to seek exclusion of Stites's testimony because he thought the jury would recognize his ineptitude and discredit the prosecution's case accordingly. Still, Camm and his counsel were unaware of the true extent of Stites's lies. Camm now argues that he would have objected to Stites's testimony had he known.

         The jury found Camm guilty. Two years later the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial, ruling that evidence of Camm's marital infidelity had been improperly admitted and the error was not harmless. Camm v. State, 812 N.E.2d 1127, 1138 (Ind.Ct.App. 2004). Additional investigation ensued. By then Floyd County voters had ousted Stan Faith as county prosecutor, electing Keith Henderson instead. Henderson assumed responsibility for the Camm case, and Gary Gilbert replaced demons as lead case investigator. Henderson and Gilbert prepared and submitted a second probable-cause affidavit, which included many of the same details as the first with two notable additions. Gilbert wrote that demons told him that Camm confessed on the night of the murders as investigators collected evidence. According to Gilbert, Clemons told him that Camm said, "This is what they do to you when you kill your wife and kids." There is a sharp dispute about what Camm actually said to Clemons, but one thing is certain: if this statement was made, it was exceedingly odd that Clemons did not think it significant enough to include in the first probable-cause affidavit. The second important addition was information that Camm had confessed to a jailhouse informant.

         Several months after Henderson and Gilbert submitted the second affidavit, Gilbert made the most important discovery of the case: the identity of the real killer. Gilbert found the old DNA profile on the "Backbone" sweatshirt and finally had it tested. The DNA matched that of Charles Boney, a repeat violent offender with a history of attacking women at gunpoint. Further investigation revealed that Boney's nickname was indeed Backbone, which a simple phone call to the Department of Corrections would have shown. Moreover, the fingerprints on Kimberly Camm's car matched Boney's.

         When investigators first questioned Boney about the murders, he demanded to speak to counsel. In a bizarre twist, he named Stan Faith, the original prosecutor, as his attorney. Faith went into private practice after losing his reelection bid to Henderson. In his new role, he had represented Boney in at least one case. The two were put in touch through Boney's mother, whom Faith has known since 1986 when he first ran for county prosecutor. Faith has testified that while he knew ...

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