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Federal prosecutors are appealing a magistrate judge’s decision that ordered the government to give Leon Houston the names and addresses of law enforcement officers who were present the night he was arrested in January.
Houston said he needs the information to prepare a defense on a charge of possessing a firearm while being an unlawful user of a controlled substance.
“The court finds that this disclosure is fair, reasonable and appropriate, and a proper balance of the defendant’s and government’s interests,” U.S. Magistrate C. Clifford Shirley Jr. said, giving the government until Oct. 4 to turn over the information. Prosecutors filed an appeal that same day.
Shirley overstepped his authority by ordering the disclosure, the appeal contends.
“The magistrate’s ruling is little more than a substitution of its perception of what is fair in place of the careful balance of respective obligations enacted by Congress,” the appeal said.
Shirley’s role, according to case law cited in the appeal, is “not to act as policy maker, deciding how to make the rules as fair as possible, but rather to determine what the rules actually provide.”
The rules, according to federal prosecutors, don’t require the government to provide Houston with that information.
Prosecutors also referenced a 1982 case known as United States v. Bouye where the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said it is not in the interest of justice to force the government or a defendant to disclose the names and addresses of witnesses before a trial. The Seventh Circuit expressed concerns about the discouragement of witnesses and improper contacts directed at influencing their testimony.
“These concerns are particularly weighty in the instant case where the defendant and his brother notoriously participated in the killing of a law enforcement officer and his citizen ride-along (and even proudly posted pictures of the killing on billboards for public consumption),” prosecutors said in the appeal of Shirley’s ruling.
Houston and his brother, Rocky Houston, each faced first-degree murder charges in state court for the 2006 deaths of Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Jones and his ride-along Mike Brown.
The state contended their deaths were the result of a premeditated ambush orchestrated by the Houstons. The brothers claimed they acted in self-defense after Jones and Brown showed up at their South of the River property shooting.
Leon Houston’s first trial ended in a hung jury. He was acquitted during a second trial in 2009.
A state appeals court ruled that an error made by the judge during Rocky Houston’s trial in December 2008 barred him from being tried again.
Leon Houston was represented by Cleveland attorney James F. Logan Jr. in the murder case. He’s now charged in federal court with threatening to kill Logan, in addition to the firearm charge.
Rocky Houston is charged in federal court with 14 counts of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.