The murder trial of Brelyn Sorrells—a 21-year-old Austin man and former Bowie High School football star who was involved in a stabbing at a San Marcos Super Bowl party in 2013—had been underway for four days before the evidence that would go on to clear him in the eyes of the jury was seen by his attorney. A whole fifteen months after the prosecution received it.
The video, which was recorded the night that Sorrells stabbed Arthur Martinez with a three-and-a-half-inch knife, was captured by the DJ at the party, who had been filming in the hopes of using the party footage in a music video. The footage clearly demonstrates that Sorrells was surrounded by armed men who began attacking him when he pulled out the knife (which he used as a boxcutter in his job at UPS). According to the Austin American-Statesman:
The footage shows dozens of college-age people packed into the house, red plastic cups in hand, as the DJ blares a thumping rap song, dancing and singing along.
Suddenly, in the background, a fight breaks out. Goss swings a glass liquor bottle at Sorrells, who has his back to a wall, surrounded.
Sorrells ducks and stabs Goss as he moves past him.
As the video continues, Sorrells is caught in a writhing mass of bodies. Eventually, he falls to the floor, where he is beaten by several people.
Arthur Martinez, a friend of Goss’, stumbles back, a red stain spreading on his shirt, brass knuckles on his right hand.
The video ends there.
Martinez died at Central Texas Medical Center about an hour after the fight.
The paper goes on to report that the video sat unwatched for fifteen months because during the evidence-gathering process, it was timestamped in a way that indicated it was shot after the fight occurred. The prosecution says that it turned the video over to Sorrells’s lawyer over a year ago, but Ariel Payan, his defense attorney, claims he never received it. In any case, four days into the trial, prosecutors made Payan aware of the video, warning him that “it didn’t make Sorrells look good,” according to the Statesman.
It made the accused man look good enough for an acquital, though, as the jury found him not guilty after a long deliberation, telling Payan that the video was an important part of their decision.
Prosecutors are required by law to disclose exculpatory, or favorable-to-the-defendant, evidence to defense attorneys in criminal cases. That was found by the Supreme Court in 1963, in the case of Brady v. Maryland, and such evidence is typically referred to as “Brady evidence.” In Sorrells’s case, it’s enormously unfortunate that that evidence took fifteen months to appear, time that he spent in jail awaiting trial. And, according to Austin’s KVUE, it was a matter of luck that it surfaced:
Payan says the video was recovered from a phone set for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which made the video’s time stamp indicate it was recorded six hours prior to the party.
Payan said it was just a stroke of luck that a prosecutor reviewing the video recognized a song playing in the background as the same one mentioned in one witness’ testimony and kept watching. Payan says the district attorney’s office alerted him the same day.
Some are curious about what prompted the prosecution, which had deemed the video irrelevant, to revisit the video on day four of the trial (and one commenter on the Texas criminal justice blog Grits For Breakfast presents a theory as to what might have been behind the delay), but unless there is an investigation into how the evidence flew under the radar for so long, we won’t know for sure how or why this video finally came to light.