COLUMBIA, S.C. – Kenneth Simmons has been granted a new trial after a circuit court determined “he was severely deprived of his due process rights” when the State presented false DNA evidence and withheld favorable information at his trial for the murder and sexual assault of an elderly woman in Summerville, S.C.
Simmons was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 Dorchester County murder. His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 2014, based on a judicial finding that Simmons is intellectually disabled – a decision that was later affirmed by the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002, after Simmons’ trial, that persons with intellectual disability cannot be executed.
Now Simmons has also been awarded a new trial. The evidence offered by the prosecution to secure his original conviction included only two items: the now debunked DNA evidence, and a confession obtained after multiple non-recorded interrogations during which Simmons (whose intellectual disability is now established) falsely confessed to other crimes before ultimately confessing to the murder. A judge recently ruled that the State’s DNA evidence was false and misleading because the State presented a DNA chart that contained fabricated results. Moreover, the State withheld material evidence, including the fact that a second round of DNA testing did not incriminate Simmons and gender-typing test results indicated no male DNA was even present in the evidentiary samples.
The Innocence Network and multiple advocacy groups for people with disabilities filed briefs in support of Simmons’s request for a new trial, noting the increased risk of false confessions and wrongful conviction for defendants with an intellectual disability. On July 25, 2017, the State announced it would not appeal the lower court’s order overturning Simmons’s convictions.
Simmons has been represented by Justice 360 lawyer, Emily Paavola, since approximately 2005, along with attorneys James Morton of Rock Hill, and Boyd Young, of Columbia. Justice 360 thanks the many other lawyers, experts, interns, investigators and Cornell law students who devoted their time and efforts to this case over the years. We also thank the Innocence Network, The Arc of South Carolina, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, and Family Connection of South Carolina, for their support as amici curiae.