This week, a Rhode Island judge reversed the murder conviction of Raymond Tempest Jr. based upon the failure of the police and prosecutors to turn over multiple pieces of exculpatory evidence pointing to the defendant’s innocence and the improper interviewing tactics of police that compromised evidence.  He spent 23 years in prison.

“There were constitutional violations of Mr. Tempest’s due process rights that requires me to vacate his conviction,” said Judge Daniel Procaccino.

Tempest was convicted of the murder of Doreen Picard on April 22, 1992. The crime occurred on February 19, 1982 in the apartment building of the victim. The case went cold for a decade before Tempest was charged.  At his trial in 1992, the prosecution offered no physical evidence connecting Tempest and there were no eyewitnesses placing him at the crime scene. Instead, the case rested on 4 individuals who claimed that Tempest confessed to them.

The individuals were all involved in prostitution, drug trafficking, or drug usage making them vulnerable to improper interviewing techniques and police pressure.

Tempest was convicted and sentenced to 85 years.

“Raymond and his family are grateful that the court has overturned Raymond’s conviction,” said Michael Kendall, one of Tempest’s lawyers from McDermott, Will & Emery, LLP, “The police and prosecutor broke the rules to put closure to a horrific crime, by convicting an innocent man. We are grateful that the court found that the police and prosecution’s failure to turn over several pieces of evidence supporting Raymond’s innocence are profound Constitutional violations. The Court’s findings on the improper police handling of witnesses puts a spotlight on a critical issue.”

Tempest has always maintained his innocence and said that the police framed him. He says he was buying cocaine at the time, but was afraid to invoke that as his alibi.

Boston’s former Police Commissioner Ed Davis, who was the lead official in the Boston Marathon Bombing manhunt, testified for the defense at the hearing. Davis said that tragic case involved massive amounts of incompetence and said former Police Chief Rodney Remblad, who at the time was just a detective, was forced by then-Police Chief Joseph Baillargeon to hide the shortcomings.

Controversy over the investigation has followed the case for years. Tempest’s brother, Gordon Tempest was a member of the Woonsocket Police Department, which investigated the case. There were deep divisions within the department at the time, which split the department into two factions of police that didn’t trust each other. This may have contributed to the charging of Tempest’s brother.

In addition, Gordon Tempest was a member of a special squad that had been investigating the lead detective on the Picard case, Rodney Remblad. This put Remblad and Tempest in two opposing factions within the department. Remblad was being investigated for possible involvement in the criminal enterprise of his brother-in-law Stanley Irza. Gordon arrested Irza on state and federal charges for tax evasion and car theft for running a chop shop. It was shortly after this that Gordon’s brother Raymond Tempest was charged.

It was revealed earlier this year that it was Irza who was the main informant who threw suspicion at Tempest.  The defense believes that Remblad coerced false testimony after being funneled information by his relative to bolster the case against the man’s brother who arrested him.

Controversy in the case hasn’t stopped; the prosecution immediately disagreed with the judge’s ruling before the hearing was even over.

“You haven’t even read my analysis and you are telling me it’s a poor argument?” Procaccino said.

The New England Innocence Project has worked the case for more than 10 years. They eventually brought in the Innocence Project and Betty Anne Waters. Waters was the inspiration for the Award-Winning Hilary Swank film Conviction (2010), which was based upon her extraordinary effort to exonerate her brother Kenny Waters for a murder that DNA evidence eventually proved he didn’t commit.  With the two organizations and Waters working together, they sought DNA testing of crime scene evidence, specifically hairs clenched in the victim’s hand.

These hairs did not match Tempest, in fact none of the items tested matched him.

Betty Waters found a critical document that had been stuck in a police file for 22 years and was never given to the defense. It provided conclusive corroborative evidence of Brady violations the Court found warranted a reversal.

“I’m so happy this day has finally arrived for Raymond,” said Waters, “There was never a shred of credible evidence connecting Mr. Tempest to the crime, and we’re confident he will ultimately be fully exonerated.”

The court overturned the conviction based upon two independent bases. First, the court found that Tempest’s constitutional rights were violated because the police and prosecution failed to disclose evidence pointing to his innocence. While the trial was taking place, a man came forward to say he didn’t loan his vehicle to a man whom the hearsay witnesses were claiming had driven the car to and from the crime scene with the defendant. This critical evidence was the only testimony placing Tempest anywhere near the crime scene, yet this man never testified and his statements were never told to the defense.

The prosecution also failed to disclose that shortly after the trial began, a key witness, who claimed the defendant confessed, changed her version. Instead of not putting her on the stand because of her unreliability or disclosing this to the defense, the prosecution instructed her not to include any of the new details and stick to the original statement, “[it’s] too late, don’t volunteer new info, will cause big problems,” they noted in the file.

The court also found that police tactics fostered “an environment for questioning that was unnecessarily suggestive”.

“Mr. Tempest never had a fair chance at trial,” said Olga Akselrod, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, “Given the new DNA and other evidence pointing to his innocence, if there is any justice, it should only be a matter of time before he is fully exonerated.”

A hearing is set for August 4th when the judge will determine bail. Tempest is still imprisoned because the state has announced their intent to appeal the decision to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

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