DONNIE MAYS...Victim of the State

Long Version

On the way to a Maundy Thursday service at Spring Hill Baptist Church on April 12, 2001 Donnie Mays (age 35 and a successful district level manager for a financial services chain in the Southeast) told his wife of 10 years that he had received a very strange phone call from his corporate headquarters that day.  Someone had apparently forged his signature on expense reports.


On the way home from the church service Kaye admitted that she was the one that had forged Donnie's signature. Not knowing the severity of wrongdoing and not expecting that Kaye had actually stolen money from Donnie’s employer, he suggested that they should call his boss at home and let him know of this. After all, Donnie and Kaye both were close to Mr. Martin. Almost like family.  However Kaye decided that it would be best to wait for the next morning to get this resolved. She suddenly refused to consider talking to Mr. Martin on that Thursday night.


Donnie attempted to talk to Kaye about the expense reports, but she also refused to discuss it.  Kaye was high strung.  Donnie is a gentle and calm person.  He agreed to wait until the next day to learn about it.


After going through their normal bedtime routine Donnie and Kaye tucked their 4 ½ year old daughter Madeline into bed, read her a nighttime story, and kissed her good night. It was about 9:15. Donnie and Kaye walked across the hall to their bedroom where they proceeded to prepare for bed and went to sleep.


At 10:35 PM Donnie got up from sleep (as he usually did) to take Madeline to the potty. He walked across the hall to her bedroom. Donnie picked Madeline up and placed her on the potty. Madeline began to potty but was interrupted by a loud explosion from across the hall. Donnie placed Madeline back into her bed, told her to go back to sleep, and ran across the hall. He turned on their bathroom light and saw Kaye lying motionless on her side of the bed. Donnie shook Kaye to try and awaken her, pulled the bed covers back, and noticed a large amount of blood on her. He immediately called Kaye's parents, his parents and 911.

Donnie's parents lived only a short distance away and arrived within a matter of minutes. Donnie's dad went into the bedroom, pulled back the covers, shook Kaye to try and get a response and then covered her back up. He noted that the back of her head was very "mushy" and that she was lifeless. He also noticed a shotgun which was under the covers with only the barrel noticeable. He left the gun where it had relocated after the covers were pulled back. Kaye's parents arrived shortly after that but did not go to the bedroom.


A police vehicle finally arrived and the officers proceeded to seal the house off. They inspected the bedroom many times with multiple people going in and out.  The police, and subsequently the D.A., maintained that the position of the spent shell casing, the position of the bed covers, the position of the weapon, and the position of Kaye’s body in the bed indicated that it was impossible for Kaye to have shot the weapon.  Therefore, Donnie was suspected of murdering her as she slept.  Donnie was questioned and interrogated by the police until 6:00 a.m., consistently maintaining his innocence and denying the police version of what occurred.


Earlier, the EMT personnel had gone into Madeline's bedroom and brought her to her grandmothers who were standing outside. As they handed her to them, Madeline told them that her daddy had her on the potty when they heard a loud bang. Kaye's mother admitted that Kaye had “finally done it, and she snapped”. She went on to say that Kaye had some type of suicidal ideation in the past. It was later noted that Kaye was bulimic and anorexic and had visited her physician the day before the suicide. She also suffered from a condition known as Munchausen’s by proxy syndrome. None of which was investigated by the prosecution or the defense.


After Donnie was taken to the police station and interrogated all night, he was booked for the murder of his wife. The interrogation lasted many hours and was carried out by 2 police detectives. They repeatedly told Donnie that the Coroner's reputation was on the line so he never made a mistake. They repeatedly stated (as can be seen on the interrogation film) that the Coroner never makes a mistake. The coroner had concluded that Donnie had shot Kaye with the shotgun at a distance of between 2 and 5 feet from a standing position. He based his conclusion on the evidence he found at the suicide scene. He assumed that the scene was sterile and
had not been altered. Of course, pulling back the bed covers, shaking the victim, moving the weapon and other items did not constitute a sterile scene. His conclusions were based on wrong information. This too was not pursued by the prosecution or the defense.


The next morning (Good Friday) Donald Briskman, a prolific attorney in Mobile, went to see Donnie at the Mobile County Jail. His family thought this to be a Godsend. None of Donnie's family had any experience with the legal system, did not know who to call or even what to do. Therefore, this attorney showing up and offering to represent Donnie appeared to them as surely a good thing. His family agreed to hire the attorney and paid him $25,000 up front. A few days later Donnie was released on bail until the trial. Donnie was in jail during the funeral services for his wife and was unable to attend.


Over the next several weeks many changes occurred which we now know was the result of urgings of the district attorney and police.  Donnie’s in-laws suddenly turned against him.  They no longer remembered that Kaye was high strung and potentially suicidal.  It was obvious that they were convinced by the D.A. and police that Kaye could not have killed herself.  Gratuitously, the guilt that Kaye’s father had voiced on the evening of her death was erased. Although he had stated that Maundy Thursday night that he shouldered some blame for Kaye’s suicide for being overly stern and unloving, he no longer needed to blame himself for failing to show her the love she deserved.  Now he could blame Donnie. That was certainly easier.


Likewise the members of Donnie’s church, Springhill Baptist, turned on Donnie. They, too, needn’t share any guilt for Kaye’s death. It’s much easier to blame Donnie...and, after all, the police say he did it.


In the days that followed the tragedy much potential evidence was altered or destroyed. Donnie's father-in-law entered Donnie’s home and removed a filing cabinet that contained financial records and Kaye’s personal files. The police removed Donnie and Kaye’s personal computer, extracted a single email from it to use as evidence against Donnie and promptly “lost” the computer so that Donnie’s defense team would not be able to search for evidence. The court allowed Kaye’s father to lock Donnie’s savings account, making it impossible for Donnie to get to his own money which was
needed for the attorney's fees. Kaye’s father should have been charged with burglary and obstruction of justice, but this too was never pursued.



Kaye's family filed for custody of Madeline and won. In each of these situations, our attorney, Mr. Briskman, kept quiet and urged us to do likewise. The police, prosecution, and Kaye’s family all recognized the potential exonerating evidence that Madeline possessed. They were intent on keeping Madeline away from Donnie and his family. They succeeded, largely because we put up no fight at all. The police, through the court, issued an order that prohibited Donnie or his attorney from discussing the events of the evening with Madeline. As absurd as this may sound, Donnie’s attorney did not file a request to have the only alibi witness available questioned. He entered the trial without the most crucial evidence to exonerate Donnie. In all, Donnie’s family paid Mr. Briskman $65,000 for his defense work.


Donnie’s family believed all along that this attorney would do everything he could for them. Instead, he repeatedly advised us to keep quiet and things would work out. Donnie is now serving a life sentence for something he did not do largely because of a poor defense effort.


During the more-than-a year period prior to the trial, Donnie and his family maintained their belief in the justice system. They never suspected that the prosecution and court would convict Donnie of a crime that he did not commit. They certainly did not think that the court would allow a story to be so twisted by the prosecution. They believed that was necessary was the truth.  Donnie and his family were told that there was expert testimony that showed that Kaye had indeed killed herself and that no matter how the prosecution weaved its case, the truth would prevail.  They did not know that relatively little effort was being made by defense team, and there was a very concerted and effective effort on the part of the prosecution to build their case.  Not only had the prosecution effectively turned Donnie’s in-laws and church against him, they convinced his attorney that Donnie’s only alibi witness, Madeline, was no longer available or credible.  Donnie’s attorney chose not to pursue testimony from her, a strategy other defense attorneys have called unforgivable. 

Donnie came from a God-fearing family. His father was a Baptist minister. Donnie and Kaye had been very active in their church. Much reliance was put in faith that Donnie would not be convicted. Donnie had no knowledge of the legal system. He did not know that he should have kept constant contact with his attorney to make sure that work was being done on his case. He did not know that he should have instructed his attorney to fight for custody of Madeline. He was so wrong!


Police actions on the scene were less than professional. Many officers and staff were in and out of the “crime scene”. They made the decision early that the scene as they had found it would be considered as sterile and previously unaltered. They had been told that Donnie and his parents had been in and out of the bedroom before the police came in, but chose to ignore it. The county coroner was called to the scene about 3 hours after the suicide occurred and was told it was a “sterile” scene.


Donnie was never checked for powder burns because the police felt that Donnie had washed his hands and thereby removing the gunpowder. It is common knowledge that gunpowder residue will stay on the skin for many hours perhaps days afterward even washing. Had the police chose to do the very simple test, Donnie would never been charged, or at least the prosecution would have had to overcome damaging evidence.  The police had chosen to make Kaye’s suicide a murder and gathered evidence that pointed only to Donnie’s guilt. To accomplish their mission, they wisely chose not to perform the paraffin test.


Donnie’s trial was a comedy of errors. Judge James Wood presided over his first murder trial, and it showed. Every single objection Donnie made during the trial was overruled. Every single objection made by the prosecution was upheld. The first day of the trial Donnie asked for a continuance in order to develop a defense to some allegations of the prosecution that were announced only days before. Because the trial had been continued earlier because the State of Alabama had run out of funds to operate its court system, Judge Wood denied Donnie’s request stating that the State had gone long enough without a trial and it was time to start. No regard was given to the fact that the prosecution intentionally kept the allegations from Donnie so he could not prepare an adequate defense.


During the trial Donnie presented evidence from a weapon's expert that showed  the oil spray from the shotgun was on the
undersurface of the sheets, therefore making it impossible for the gunshot to occur from a 30 degree angle and above the sheets like the coroner had stated.  During cross examination, the prosecution skillfully portrayed the expert to be a “hired gun” rather than to present contradictory evidence.  Our attorney did nothing to convince the jury otherwise. Judge Wood even referred to the expert as Donnie’s “Hired Gun”.


Although Donnie was not notified until a few days prior to the trial that the prosecution intended on presenting evidence that Donnie had participated alone in the embezzlement of funds from his company, Judge Wood denied the motion for more time to gather evidence and prepare a defense for the embezzlement allegation. The prosecution skillfully spent many hours of their trial presentation to the jury (2 ½ days) to prove that Donnie was an embezzler, creating a motive that he killed Kaye to cover his tracks. Again skillfully, the lengthy process wore down the jury and convinced them that he had embezzled funds. The prosecution very effectively convinced the jury that Donnie was an embezzler.  With this seed very firmly set in the jurors’ mind, it was easy to convince them to overlook the contradictory forensic evidence.  Donnie was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced for murder! Judge Wood allowed the prosecution to proceed with information and with a strategy that gave the jury an unfairly told and biased story. Judge Wood disallowed Donnie the opportunity to defend himself effectively.


Donnie's only crime prior to the trial was a speeding ticket. Judge Woods sentenced Donnie to life in prison.


From Good Friday, 2001 until today, custody of Donnie's daughter is awarded to his in-laws. Donnie's house and all of his belongings were awarded to his in-laws. Neither Donnie nor any of his family is allowed contact with Madeline. Donnie's rights have been constantly violated.


Attempts to send the case through the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court resulted in denial.  After all, that is what a rubber stamp process results in. No real look at the argument.


Another attorney was hired to present a case that Donnie’s previous attorney erred by not pursuing Madeline’s exonerating testimony. By law, the hearing was given to Judge Wood. The case was made that the key witness, Madeline, was never put on the stand to give her testimony. A taped interview with an experienced psychologist and Madeline was given to the judge. It showed Madeline stating that she was on the potty with her dad when a loud explosion was heard. The attorney also presented evidence that Madeline's IQ is extremely high, only 2 points below that of the highest category. Judge Wood continued his streak by denying the motion for a new trial.

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