Herald Dispatch Article

Cabell attorneys argue for new trial in 2007 killing

HUNTINGTON - The West Virginia Supreme Court heard arguments from Cabell County attorneys on Tuesday pleading for a new trial for a man sentenced to life without mercy after a jury found he killed a man over a lost dice game in Huntington in 2007.

Of the eight errors attorneys Connor Robertson and Todd Meadows argued, two essential arguments detail what they allege was suppressed and possibly exonerating testimony and disputable footwear forensic analysis, as detailed in a brief filed by the West Virginia Innocence Project.

Quinton Peterson was convicted by a jury in 2008 of shooting to death Phillip "Slim" Sirmons in Huntington the year before. Police found Sirmons' body in an alley between the 1600 blocks of Doulton and 11th avenues, behind the former Simms Elementary School.

Witnesses had testified a dice game motivated the attack. They said Peterson had lost several hundred dollars a few days before the shooting and was losing more that day. They testified Peterson shot the victim and then looted money and crack cocaine from the body.

The Supreme Court heard the arguments in Tucker County in northern West Virginia on Tuesday. A broadcast of the testimony was not made available.

The appeal to the Supreme Court came after a Cabell County circuit court judge denied a change in sentencing in 2015.

Testimony from Antonio Smith indicated Peterson had become upset after losing at a dice game at a woman's home. A second dice game had been scheduled for the day of Sirmons' death. Prosecuters alleged Peterson continued to lose money and eventually shot Sirmons in an alley before fleeing to Columbus, where he resided, leaving a path of bloody boot prints behind.

The testimony served to show pre-meditation and motive to kill.

In 2012, nearly four years after the trial, the dice game host testified that the night before Peterson's trial began, a Huntington police officer interviewed her. She said she told the officer Peterson was not angry when leaving the home and had actually won money, refuting Smith's testimony.

The officer testified at the same hearing if the woman would have told him anything contradicting Smith's story, he would have recorded it and forwarded it to prosecution, Julie A. Warren, assistant attorney general for West Virginia, wrote.

"Any alleged discrepancy between (testimonies) concerning who won that first dice game is not so material as to warrant a new trial given the nature of the prosecution's evidence against the petitioner to support its first-degree murder charges," she said.

After the shooting, Peterson returned to a Columbus home where boots were later confiscated upon his arrest.

At his trial, a West Virginia state trooper testified boots found at the home were identical with the impression found at the crime scene and "within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty" the boots could have made impressions found at the crime scene, Warren wrote.

The Innocence Project argued while footwear analysis is pervasive in the courtroom, the science is not foolproof, nor guaranteed.

"The field of forensic footwear analysis is a subjective method of obtaining evidence that has been shown to be susceptible to multiple forms of error," the Innocence Project filing said. "The field of forensic science is continually evolving and is not without its faults."

Among other arguments, Peterson's attorneys argued the use of hearsay statements regarding in whose bedroom the boots were located, and stated the state improperly introduced evidence of Peterson's criminal history, though he brought his criminal history up first while testifying.

They also allege prosecutors painted the petitioner in a bad light by asking a witness if Peterson was known to carry a gun. Warren disputes the claim, stating possession of a firearm does not define one's character.

The justices did not issue an opinion on the arguments Tuesday, but one could come at a later date.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

The amicus brief filed on behalf of Quinton Peterson can be viewed here