Man freed after murder charges dropped during trial

January 18, 2011 3:57:59 PM PST
The trial of a man accused of murdering his wife came to an abrupt end Tuesday morning after experts determined the victim had actually killed herself. All charges against Noel Dean have been dropped, but that's not good news for the woman's family.

This is considered a rare occurrence in the District Attorney's Office, especially since one of the factors for prosecution is based on the outcome of an autopsy report by the Medical Examiner's Office. The doctor who performed that autopsy gave inconsistent statements on the stand during Dean's second trial last week, causing a change of course in the outcome of the trial.

Dean's attorney said it has been an emotional roller coaster for his family.

"It's been hell for him. It's been hell for his family. He's never had the opportunity to grieve his wife because from the morning that she committed suicide, he was accused of her murder," said Letitia D. Quinones, Dean's attorney. "For the last three years, he's lost his job, he's lost his schooling with TSU, he's lost his position with the debate team and the family has basically depleted every asset they have to prove their son's innocence."

But the fact that the charges were dropped shocked the victim's family who say it's too hard to believe.

"Basically, that he got away with murder. That's what's going through my mind," said Brandice Williams, sister of Noel Dean's wife, Shannon.

It is a harsh judgement for Williams who is stunned that the man accused of murdering her sister had the murder charge against him dismissed today.

"Sad and angry, but more angry than anything," Williams said.

Noel Dean was married to Shannon Dean in 2007 when she was found dead after a party at their home. She died of a gunshot wound to the head. At the time, Dean, then 23, was arrested and charged with murder, even though he told investigators he believed his wife committed suicide. Tests for gunpowder residue on Dean's hands were inconclusive.

His first murder trial in 2009 ended with a hung jury despite the fact that the Harris County Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide, saying in 2007 that the "angle and bruising around the wound were consistent with someone standing over complainant (Shannon) and firing the gun into her head."

But an expert witness brought by his defense changed the course of the second trial last week, revealing the marking on Shannon's skull caused by the weapon, called 'tattooing,' suggested suicide, not homicide.

"That gives a story as to how the gun was positioned, so that is where the discrepancy came in. After they did the second look at it, what they realized is that the weapon was positioned and was tattooed exactly the way Noel Dean said it was," said Quinones.

Noel Dean was not allowed by his attorney to speak with Eyewitness News. However, the victim's sister does not believe Shannon committed suicide.

When we asked Williams if she believed her sister was capable of committing suicide, she replied, "No, I don't. I do not believe that. And if it got that bad to where she wanted to kill herself, which it wouldn't have, she wouldn't have done it like that."

Williams said Shannon did not like guns and did not like using them.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Harris County District Attorney's Office issued a statement saying in part, "One expert witness changed his opinion... this caused the state to review these new findings... the case was dismissed."

The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office told us that the manner of death for Shannon Dean's autopsy will be changed from homicide to undetermined.

Noel Dean went before a judge at the Harris County Criminal Courthouse Tuesday afternoon to finish up paperwork so his case can be expunged.

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