DALLAS – A Texas man who spent 21 years in prison for murder pleaded guilty to the same crime on Friday, three years after he was freed from prison and granted a new trial by DNA evidence that showed his original conviction was tainted.
Clay Chabot was sentenced to time served under an agreement that allows prosecutors to claim a conviction and the defendant to go home. He was taken into custody by sheriff's deputies but was expected to be processed out quickly.
The 51-year-old pleaded guilty to murdering Galua Crosby, who was found in her Garland home tied up and gagged with three gunshot wounds to the head. Prosecutors portrayed it as a drug deal gone bad.
Chabot was first convicted of the crime in 1986 — in part by testimony from his brother-in-law Gerald Pabst, who said on the stand that Chabot raped and shot Crosby. But a 2007 DNA test on a vaginal swab excluded Chabot and linked Pabst to the crime. Pabst was convicted of capital murder in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison.
After Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins agreed that Pabst's perjured testimony had tainted the original conviction, Chabot won his freedom and a new trial. But Watkins insisted both men killed Crosby.
Chabot maintained his innocence up until his plea Friday.
It was an unusual case for the New York-based Innocence Project, which as its name suggests, does not typically represent clients who plead guilty to murder.
Innocence Project attorney Nina Morrison said in a statement that the plea deal allows Chabot to reunite with his wife and grown son, who was an infant when his father was imprisoned. She said she "fully supports" Chabot's decision.
"Those of us who have never spent a day behind bars, much less two decades, cannot imagine what a difficult choice this plea offer presented," Morrison said.
Watkins acknowledged the adversarial nature of the case, unusual because he has worked with the Innocence Project on several of the two dozen Dallas cases where convictions have been set aside due to DNA or new evidence. Dallas has more DNA exonerations than any county in the nation and all but two states.
"This was probably not the best case for them," Watkins said. "They, overall, do a very good job."
Crosby's sister-in-law said the legal center's representation of Chabot "puts a black mark on anyone who says they are innocent."
"He abused the Innocence Project," said Susan Campbell. "To try to proclaim his innocence is a terrible injustice."
At Chabot's original trial, authorizes said he was angry about $500 worth of bad meth he had bought from Crosby's husband and sought retribution by killing the man's wife.
Pabst testified then that he and Chabot drove to Crosby's home and demanded drugs, before Chabot lost his temper and disappeared into the bedroom with Crosby. Pabst said he heard several gunshots and the two men then fled.
Chabot had previously maintained he was home sleeping at the time and that Pabst had borrowed his gun and killed Crosby.
Authorities found a knife from Crosby's home in Pabst's car and a pawn shop ticket for a radio stolen from Crosby's home in his possession. But Pabst cut a deal with prosecutors in 1986 to testify against his brother-in-law and avoid prison.
Much of the evidence in the case has disappeared in the past two decades, making a retrial challenging. The county had lost the alleged murder weapon, another handgun, a shell casing found at the crime scene, a bloody shirt worn by Pabst and a blood sample.
Friday's plea deal makes another trial unnecessary. Jury selection was scheduled for Monday. At the hearing, Campbell read a statement on behalf of Crosby's surviving relatives telling Chabot that he had killed someone's daughter, mother and sister.
Afterward, Campbell told reporters that Chabot being freed had put the family "through three years of hell."
"It was painful — painful when she died," Campbell said. "And it was like she died all over again in 2007."