Boulder Woman Exonerated after 14 Years in Husband’s Killing Based on Self-Defense Claim

Traci Housman appears at a bond hearing at the Boulder County Jail in Boulder, Colorado, on Aug. 3, 2009.

In an uncommon legal reversal, a Boulder County District Court Judge has nullified the 2009 second-degree murder conviction of Traci Housman, following a review by the Boulder County district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit. The unit, which investigates potential wrongful convictions, supported Housman’s long-standing assertion of self-defense in the fatal stabbing of her husband, John Housman.

On an August night 14 years ago, Boulder police responded to a domestic disturbance at the Housman residence. There, they found Traci Housman, who had extricated glass from her hair, asserting to officers that she had stabbed her husband in a confrontation that involved him violently slamming her head into a wall and a picture frame, resulting in its shattering.

Traci Housman was initially charged with second-degree murder, a crime that could have seen her imprisoned for 16 to 48 years. The prosecution, however, later presented her with an alternative: plead guilty to criminally negligent homicide and receive probation. Traci Housman, who had spent eight months in jail and faced the prospect of a significant prison sentence, accepted the deal. She was consequently sentenced to seven years of probation, three of which she completed before being granted an early release.

The conviction, nonetheless, continued to impact her life profoundly, inhibiting her ability to gain employment and pursue her chosen career path. This impediment lasted until the recent court decision, where Judge Patrick Butler, presiding over a 35-minute hearing, determined that Traci Housman’s self-defense claim in the incident was substantiated. This decision came at the behest of the district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which was launched to address concerns of potential wrongful convictions.

District Attorney Michael Dougherty emphasized in court that while the arrest was not in question, the self-defense claim held by Ms. Housman was both truthful and legitimate. The exoneration has been met with opposition from John Housman’s family, who claim that the violence was mutual within the relationship. Hope Scalcini, John Housman’s daughter, conveyed her dismay at the decision via email, stating that the full truth of the events leading to her father’s death was known only to the deceased and Traci Housman, with the latter now having control over the narrative.

The exoneration stands out not just for its context but also for its origination within the Boulder DA’s internal Conviction Integrity Unit rather than an external agency or new defense counsel. Legal experts, including Marissa Bluestine of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, noted the rarity of the case’s circumstances, particularly as it addressed a claim of legal innocence as opposed to factual innocence.

Conviction integrity units, like the one in Boulder that has vacated three convictions since 2018, often review claims of factual innocence. However, approximately two-thirds also consider legal innocence claims, where the identity of the perpetrator is undisputed, but there exists a legitimate legal defense for the act.

Chuck Heidel, the former Boulder police detective on the case and now a senior investigator at the district attorney’s office, initiated the review after Traci Housman approached him for support in a clemency application. Heidel, who initially believed the plea deal was fair, has since recognized that Housman’s decision was heavily influenced by the ongoing domestic violence within her marriage, a realization that aligns with insights from Margaret Abrams, executive director of the Rose Andom Center, which assists survivors of domestic violence.

Former Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, who was involved in the original plea deal offered to Traci Housman, expressed confidence in the initial handling of the case but acknowledged the merit in revisiting the judgment in light of new insights.

Traci Housman maintained in court that she had refrained from disclosing the entirety of her marriage’s violent nature initially to give her husband’s family a chance to heal. Her sentiments echo a broader, evolving understanding within the judicial system of the necessity to contextualize domestic violence beyond isolated incidents.

Despite the exoneration, Scalcini remains skeptical of the new information provided by Traci Housman during the conviction review, suggesting it had been refined over time. This case contributes to a notable statistic from the National Registry of Exonerations: about a quarter of the listed exonerees had initially pleaded guilty to their charges.

Maurice Possley, a senior researcher, has identified similar cases where women were later exonerated for defending themselves against abusive partners. The overwhelming majority of cases end in plea deals, underlining a judicial reality where defendants sometimes concede guilt for various strategic reasons, including a desire for resolution and avoidance of prolonged legal battles. This case, according to experts, illustrates not just the role of conviction integrity units in rectifying potential miscarriages of justice but also the complexity of legal defenses within the context of domestic violence.

Author: CrimeDoor

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