Posts Tagged ‘exculpatory evidence’

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.   (more…)

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The U.S. Supreme Court has put police stations all around the country on notice: if you withhold evidence you can be sued.  The court let stand a civil jury verdict against two LAPD detectives who concealed evidence that kept an innocent man in jail for more than 2 years awaiting trial.  The justices turned down an appeal from the LA city attorney who contended that because the man was freed before trial, the police officers could not be sued for hiding evidence.

Michael Walker, who is now deceased, was standing in a store in the Crenshaw neighborhood of LA in August of 2005 when a store clerk thought he looked like a middle-aged black man who had robbed the store a few days earlier. Police were called and Walker was arrested. He agreed to be interviewed and have his belongings searched.

No evidence was ever discovered linking him to the robbery, but detectives saw him as a prime suspect in not just one robbery, but more than a dozen in the area. Each time, the thief gave the clerk or cashier a handwritten note demanding money. Usually the note misspelled the word “start” as in “start shooting.”

Walker maintained his innocence. Two detectives, Steven Moody and Robert Pulido still believed they had the right man. They held Walker in jail pending investigation. To justify his detention and $1 million bail, they filed a report telling prosecutors that, “Since the arrest of Walker, the crime spree caused by the ‘Demand Note Robber’ has ceased.”

This was in fact untrue.

Two days after Walker was arrested, a man matching the description robbed the Golden Bird restaurant presenting a note to the cashier. Later that same day, a Burger King was robbed in the same manner. The notes both misspelled “start”.

The detectives later admitted under oath that they knew the robberies continued and didn’t tell anyone, including prosecutors. In other words, that Walker couldn’t have committed them. So why did they lie to keep an innocent man in jail? That may never be known.

When attorneys representing Walker learned that his fingerprints were not found at the store where he was arrested, they asked the LAPD for information on other robberies. The LAPD refused saying it was too burdensome to the department.

Later, a judge ordered the information to be disclosed. That is when defense attorneys learned that another man matching the description had been apprehended fleeing a robbery and that his fingerprints were found at the scene of the store Walker was arrested in.  When prosecutors learned of this, they dropped the charges against Walker.

A judge later pronounced him innocent of the crimes. Walker sued the LAPD and the detectives for violations of his constitutional rights and deprivation of his liberty without due process. A jury awarded him $106,000.  The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict, ruling that the Constitution protects suspects from “prolonged” pre-trial detention when concealed evidence could have demonstrated their innocence.

The city attorney’s office appealed to the Supreme Court. They argued that the constitutional ruling involving withheld evidence should only apply to a right to a fair trial not to arrest or pretrial detention.

The high court simply denied their appeal (Moody v. Tatum) without comment or dissent.  Mary Tatum is the administrator of Walker’s estate.

Walker died in 2011 from alcohol-related health problems. John C. Burton, who represented Walker in the civil rights case, said Walker’s health deteriorated after his release from jail. At one point, Walker became homeless. Burton said the jury award, which did not include any punitive damages, was relatively low because Walker was poor and could not show he suffered major economic loss.

The award is expected to be inherited by his mother.

Justin Wolfe’s death sentence and conviction were overturned in 2011 after a federal judge found multiple acts of misconduct by Paul Ebert, who has sent more people to death row in Virginia than any other prosecutor in the state.  Last year, the 4th Circuit ruled that Wolfe should be retried for the 2001 murder-for-hire of Daniel Petrole Jr.  The state doesn’t believe that the retrial needs to be speedy, however.  They have levied new charges against Wolfe, that in and of themselves could put Wolfe in prison for life.

Are prosecutors trying to strong arm Wolfe into a plea deal?  (Read:  Why is Wolfe Still in Prison? on Slate)

“Why is the commonwealth still prosecuting a case in which the evidence is impossibly tainted, the star witness has taken the fifth, and which the federal district court has insisted must end because the whole thing collapsed under years of repeated misconduct?” Dahlia Lithwick answers, “Because it can.”

Prosecutor Paul Ebert who has stepped down from the case explained that his office suppressed exculpatory evidence because it “does not have an open-file policy”, referring to providing criminal defense attorneys with access to the entire case file.  Ebert made no mention of law, interest of justice, fairness, or the Brady rule of discovery.  In addition, Ebert said that in the past he learned that if he gives the defense information that can show the defendant isn’t guilty, they tend to win at trial by what he called “fabricating” a defense around the exculpatory evidence.

In other words, according to Lithwick, “Ebert admitted that his office hangs on to proof of innocence in order to keep criminal defendants from proving themselves innocent.”

A judge said prosecutors’ behavior in the case is “not only unconstitutional in regards to due process, but abhorrent…”