If guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is the standard used to convict those accused of crimes in the U.S., the Jackson County Circuit Judge overseeing a motion from convicted murderer Sylvester R. Sisco II should order a new trial.
New and compelling evidence introduced by Sisco’s attorney suggests that the Kansas City man deserves another day in court.
In a recent hearing before Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Joel Fahnestock, Sisco’s attorney, Nicole Forsythe, asserted that prosecutors withheld evidence during his murder trial seven years ago. She also contended that Sisco received ineffective counsel from defense attorney Dan Ross.
Forsythe said prosecutors failed to produce a video that would have shown Sisco killed Jacob Higgs and severely injured Reno Dillard in self-defense during a deadly shooting in 2006.
Prosecutors are legally obligated to turn over information that could be useful to the defense.
In a hearing Monday, Fahnestock ordered attorneys from both sides to present findings of facts and conclusion of law next week. Evidence suggests Sisco’s conviction should be vacated.
An enhanced video clearly shows one of the victims pointed an AR-15 assault rifle in the direction of Sisco and his brother before the shooting began.
Without the video, Sisco was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. His brother, Anthony, was found not guilty. His defense lawyer successfully argued self-defense.
How is it possible that two brothers accused of the same crime in the same incident have two different outcomes in the judicial system?
Ross claimed under oath that faulty software complicated viewing of the original video. He eventually watched a copy in the prosecutor’s office, an unusual move for a defense attorney.
The video’s poor quality prevented Ross from seeing the assault rifle, an essential detail that would be key to a self-defense claim.
If evidence used to acquit Anthony Sisco had been presented in Sylvester Sisco’s trial, his attorney could have made a strong argument for self-defense.
Naturally, Jackson County prosecutors dispute Sylvester Sisco’s claims. Spokesman Michael Mansur said Ross received the videos before trial. They were also played in open court, he said.
Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s conviction review unit stands by an initial review issued in 2011.
“If we had problems with discovery, we would have come forward,” Mansur said.
Remember the prosecution of Richard Buchli II, a Kansas City attorney who was accused of killing his law partner? Buchli’s murder conviction was thrown out by an appeals court after prosecutors failed to disclose a surveillance videotape that might have exonerated him.
Forsythe said it best in court: The video, along with some questionable actions by the victims, when considered together, substantiate a self-defense claim.
Before Sylvester Sisco spends the rest of his life in prison, there should be no doubt he committed first-degree murder. At a minimum, a new trial is warranted.