New trial for Pittsburgh convict serving life set for May

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Taibu Grant, serving a life term for a murder he insists he did not commit, will get a new chance to prove his innocence starting May 14 when he goes on trial a second time.

Mr. Grant won a new trial after a federal appellate court last month said his public defender, Sumner Parker, made "unprofessional errors" in his first trial in 1997.

Mr. Grant, a gang member originally from Washington, D.C., who was living in Brushton, was convicted that year of killing Keith Gilliam, 28, of East Liberty outside the Where It's At bar in Lincoln-Lemington.

After the verdict came in he made a scene, criticizing jurors in open court and swearing at an assistant district attorney.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blasted the prosecution and prior judges but leveled most of the blame on Mr. Grant's lawyer for not trying harder to impeach the state's only witness, Christopher Moore.

After exhausting his state court appeals, Mr. Grant filed a habeas petition in U.S. District Court in 2009. It was also rejected, but in a relatively rare decision the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month overturned the lower court ruling and sent the case back to Common Pleas Court.

Roger Cox, Mr. Grant's appellate lawyer, will try the case and said he will introduce affidavits that another man, 19-year-old Richard Hall, confessed to the killing before he was murdered in Homewood in 1999.

Mr. Cox also will rely on affidavits and testimony from other witnesses, including another man who was wounded, who said Mr. Grant was not the shooter.

In addition, he will present a 2011 affidavit, referenced in the 3rd Circuit opinion, in which Mr. Moore said he was pressured by the district attorney to testify for the prosecution because of his own criminal past.

Mr. Moore, the only witness to say Mr. Grant did the shooting, was on parole from a prior conviction at the time and was not allowed to be out drinking as he was that night.

The jury never heard that, however, because Mr. Parker failed to thoroughly research his background, according to the 3rd Circuit.

The three-judge appellate panel said that was a crucial mistake because the state's entire case rested on Mr. Moore. Police found no physical evidence -- no gun, no bullets, no fingerprints -- to tie Mr. Grant to the scene.

Other lawyers over the years who have worked on Mr. Grant's behalf also have attacked Mr. Moore's credibility.

"Mr. Moore's testimony was completely implausible and blatantly untrustworthy," wrote attorney William Kaczynski in motions filed during the appeals process in the state courts.

The district attorney's office declined to comment Monday.

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Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-2653-1510.


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