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Freed man sues Las Vegas police after spending 32 years on death row

Updated July 27, 2020 - 5:39 pm

A man who claims he was wrongfully imprisoned for three decades on death row for a 1985 murder on the Strip is suing the Metropolitan Police Department and the officers involved in his arrest.

Attorneys for Paul Browning, who was freed in August, claim Las Vegas police ignored evidence that would have proved Browning’s innocence in the stabbing death of 60-year-old jeweler Hugo Elsen and fabricated evidence to frame him for the crime.

“Browning was twice sentenced to death by execution, which would have been a tragic miscarriage of justice that could not, in any way, ever be undone,” according to his federal lawsuit.

The complaint, filed Friday in Las Vegas, alleges that police relied on unscrupulous informants to cast the blame on Browning and intentionally suppressed exculpatory witness testimony that came from Elsen himself before he died.

In response to a request for comment on the lawsuit, the Metropolitan Police Department’s office of public information issued a statement Monday saying only that the department does not comment on pending litigation.

Browning was released from prison after serving 32 years for a crime his lawyers said he did not commit.

In part because many of the key witnesses in the stabbing nearly 35 years ago had since died, District Judge Douglas Herndon dismissed the case.

The judge ruled in March 2019 that because the attorney who represented Browning at trial failed to ask essential questions of those witnesses, “a fair trial consistent with due process is no longer possible.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also had found that “a mixture of disturbing prosecutorial misconduct and woefully inadequate assistance of counsel” led to “extreme malfunctions” at Browning’s trial.

Prosecutors appealed Herndon’s decision with the Nevada Supreme Court, which upheld the judge’s ruling earlier this year.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Marc DiGiacomo had argued that Browning could be convicted of murder, even after key witnesses had died. Some are still alive, the prosecutor said.

Browning’s fingerprints were found on the underside of a glass counter in Elsen’s store, and a knife with Elsen’s blood was discovered under the stairs where Browning was arrested 20 minutes after the slaying, DiGiacomo added.

This week, the prosecutor expressed concern about Browning’s lawsuit.

“The evidence fully supports that Paul Lewis Browning murdered Hugo Elsen,” DiGiacomo said. “And it’s an offense to justice that (Browning) may collect any money.”

In 2006, Browning appealed his conviction but was once again convicted and sentenced to death.

Seattle attorney David Owens and Chicago attorney Andy Thayer said in a news release on Saturday that police misconduct and previously unknown suppressed evidence was uncovered during a final appeal to federal court.

Browning was traveling to the East Coast to live near his mother when he stopped in Las Vegas in 1985, his attorneys said.

In Browning’s lawsuit, Reno attorney Luke Busby and Owens wrote that Browning “was not involved in the robbery and murder of Hugo Elsen in any way whatsoever.”

Contact Max Michor at mmichor@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0365. Follow @MaxMichor on Twitter. Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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