OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday ordered an evidentiary hearing be held for a Lincoln man convicted of murder who says his trial attorney failed him by not objecting to jurors being allowed to hear parts of recorded police interviews with him.
Dallas Huston, 34, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced in 2011 to 50 years to life in prison for the death of 22-year-old Ryan Johnson. An autopsy showed Johnson died of asphyxiation and that he’d also taken a potentially fatal dose of sleeping pills.
Police testified at Huston’s trial that he told others about Johnson’s death and helped Johnson with a suicide. Huston was initially charged with assisting a suicide, but police later determined that Johnson tried to free himself from plastic wrapped around his head, and that Huston suffocated Johnson with a pillow.
On Friday, the state’s high court said a Lancaster County District judge should not have dismissed Huston’s request for post-conviction relief - typically sought after all appeals have been exhausted - without first holding a hearing on the evidence.
The issues raised in Huston’s motion for post-conviction relief are similar to those he argued on appeal - that some evidence should not have been allowed, including recordings of police interviews with Huston in which Huston detailed his sexual history with the victim, which amounted to a lone encounter, and a detective speculating that Huston may be a serial killer and that he had murdered Johnson.
The high court rejected those arguments on direct appeal, saying that because Huston’s lawyer failed to object to the evidence at trial, it could not be brought up on appeal.
Huston’s post-conviction motion argument says that the lawyer’s failure to object to those parts of the recordings being played tainted the jury to such a degree that he didn’t get a fair trial.
“The record is still in need of development regarding trial counsel’s strategy,” Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman wrote for the court Friday. “Thus, we determine that the district court erred when it failed to grant Huston an evidentiary hearing on this issue.”
Court records detail a bizarre case, in which Huston claimed to have multiple personalities, most of them based on television and movie characters. Huston told friends in sessions secretly recorded by police that one of those personalities, Vincent, had violent tendencies and had killed Johnson. Huston demonstrated the various personalities to investigators during police interviews, court documents say, by snapping his fingers to “leave himself” and bring forth various alternate personalities.
A psychiatrist testified at Huston’s trial that an individual suffering from multiple personality disorder is unaware of his or her alternate personalities and cannot “call up” an alternate personality.
Huston represented himself in the post-conviction case. Suzanne Gage, a spokeswoman with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, said the office had no comment on the ruling.
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