Dallas Morning News

Witness charged with '86 slaying
Dallas County: DNA evidence links him to crime; man convicted may get new trial

12:00 AM CDT on Thursday, August 2, 2007
By JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News
jemily@dallasnews.com

The Dallas County district attorney's office is looking into whether a man was unfairly convicted in the 1986 rape and murder of a Garland woman after a recent DNA test connected another man to the crime.

Gerald Pabst was arrested on a capital murder charge Tuesday, two decades after he testified that Clay Chabot attacked Galua Crosby. Mr. Chabot was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

"We want to make sure we've got the right characters in jail," Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said Wednesday. "This is not to say Mr. Chabot did not participate in this crime."
 
But the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that seeks to exonerate wrongly convicted people through DNA evidence, says Mr. Chabot is innocent and was convicted based on lies that Mr. Pabst told a jury.

"The entire case the jury heard 21 years ago rested on Gerald Pabst's story," said Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project, which is representing Mr. Chabot. "Clay has always maintained he had nothing to do with the crime."

Mr. Watkins said Mr. Chabot, 48, could get a new trial. DNA does not link him to the crime.

Ms. Morrison said that the Innocence Project has been talking with the district attorney's office and that she hopes Mr. Watkins will decide to join them in asking state District Judge Lana Myers to set aside Mr. Chabot's conviction and ask for a new trial.

Mike Ware, who oversees the district attorney's new conviction integrity unit, said the office is not ready to make a decision.

Mr. Pabst, now 55, was a suspect in the death of Ms. Crosby, 28, shortly after her slaying, Mr. Watkins said. He was charged with murder but never tried, even though he had a pawn ticket for Ms. Crosby's stolen radio and her husband's pocketknife.

Mr. Pabst, who lived in Terrell at the time, testified that he was at the home on the night of the slaying only because Mr. Chabot forced him to go with him to collect a drug debt.

He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge for taking items from Ms. Crosby's home and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

During the investigation, Mr. Pabst passed two polygraph tests, the results indicating that he didn't take part in the slaying. At Mr. Chabot's trial, Mr. Pabst testified that he was in another room when Mr. Chabot raped and killed Ms. Crosby.

The state argued that Mr. Chabot was angry about the poor quality of $450 worth of methamphetamine he had bought from Doug Graham, Ms. Crosby's husband, five days before her death, according to the Innocence Project.

Mr. Graham, who could not be reached for comment, testified at the trial that he had offered to buy back the drugs but that Mr. Chabot refused, according to the Innocence Project.

Mr. Chabot testified at his trial that he wasn't angry enough to kill Ms. Crosby.

The gun used in the crime did belong to Mr. Chabot, but Mr. Watkins said Mr. Chabot had lent it to Mr. Pabst, who returned it after the slaying.

Former state District Judge Janice Warder was the original prosecutor in the case. She could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Watkins said prosecutors are looking into possible wrongdoing by the district attorney's office.

Ms. Morrison said that at previous court hearings in the 1990s another attorney for Mr. Chabot looked into whether prosecutors made a deal with Mr. Pabst for his testimony even though he told the jury they had not. Ms. Morrison said that nothing came of those hearings but that she believes the district attorney's office is looking into the issue again.

Mr. Pabst declined to be interviewed at the Dallas County Jail, where he is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail.

The district attorney's office said DNA linked Mr. Pabst to the crime in June.

Mr. Pabst pleaded guilty to two DWI charges and resisting arrest in the 1980s. No criminal record was found for him in Ohio, where he lived immediately before his arrest.

Mr. Pabst was arrested at a bar near Geneva, Ohio, which is not far from Cleveland, said George Espinoza, an investigator at the district attorney's office.

Mr. Watkins said Mr. Pabst's arrest shows that DNA can help solve old cases and free those who are wrongly convicted. Dallas County has recorded 13 DNA exonerations since 2001, the most of any U.S. county.

"This is just another example of what DNA can do for this county," Mr. Watkins said.

The district attorney's office has not been able to find Ms. Crosby's family.

"I don't think they're around anymore," Mr. Watkins said. "We're just doing justice for her."

CASE UPDATE

What happened: The Dallas County district attorney's office has announced it will investigate whether prosecutors believe Clay Chabot was unfairly convicted of raping and killing a Garland woman in 1986.

What's next: The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal group, plans to ask a judge to vacate Mr. Chabot's conviction based on new DNA evidence. The district attorney's office could oppose this or join the group in its request. If the conviction is vacated, the district attorney's office must decide whether to try Mr. Chabot again. If the conviction stands, Mr. Chabot will serve out his sentence.


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