Lawyers for Raymond “Beaver” Tempest Jr. are seeking to overturn his 1992 high-profile conviction after DNA testing revealed that hair clutched in the victim’s hand is not his.
In a 70-page motion filed Monday, his lawyers ask that his conviction for bludgeoning and strangling Doreen C. Picard be vacated on the grounds of new evidence. The DNA finding, they say, proves that the prosecution’s star witness lied about Tempest allegedly confessing.
In addition, they say that the prosecution violated Tempest’s due process rights by withholding exculpatory evidence and knowingly presenting false testimony to the jury. They also accuse Tempest’s trial lawyer of failing to vigorously cross-examine witnesses or challenge the theory of the prosecution.
The spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office, Amy Kempe said, “It should be noted that Raymond Tempest was found guilty by a jury based on an overwhelming amount of evidence, independent of DNA, including several witnesses who testified that the defendant admitted murdering Doreen Picard.”
Tempest was convicted in 1982 in the death of 22-year-old Picard. Prosecutors accused him of savagely pummeling her with a pipe and strangling her with her own sweater after she found him and two other men allegedly beating her landlord, Susan Laferte in the basement. Prosecutors alleged that he boasted to friends that he would “slide” because his father was a sheriff and brother a police detective. Tempest’s trial lawyer, William Dimitri Jr. argued there was no physical evidence. He questioned the credibility of witnesses contending that many of them were under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time.
In 1995, the state Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentence. Tempest, now 61, is serving an 85-year sentence. A decade ago, Tempest asked the New England Innocence Project to help him pursue DNA testing. In 2004, Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini ordered DNA testing, marking the first time a judge in Rhode Island mandated DNA testing as part of a defendant’s appeal. None of the crime scene evidence matched Tempest. According to his lawyers, that should mean that he is entitled to relief because “virtually every piece of evidence that the state offered to implicate Tempest is now known to be false,” his lawyers, Michael Kendall, Mathew Turnell, Katherine Dyson, Lauren Jones, and Betty Anne Waters (whom the 2010 film Conviction is based upon). Waters’ late brother Kenneth spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
“The state’s case against Tempest was based on the testimony of drug addicts and criminals,” they wrote, “These witnesses implicated Tempest years after the crime, and their allegations evolved as the state’s case against Tempest developed.”
Tempest challenges the testimony of Ronald Vaz that he confessed to the murder during conversations at Vaz’s house. Vaz also accused Tempest’s brother, former Lt. Gordon Tempest and his father, Sheriff Raymond Tempest Sr. of covering up the crime and tampering with the murder weapon. Tempest’s lawyers say that land records and a sworn statement by the previous owner of the farm show that Vaz did not own nor have access to the farm until months after the alleged confessions happened there. They noted that Vaz provided more details and boosted the number of times that Tempest allegedly confessed to him just days after another key prosecution witness, Tempest’s alleged accomplice Daniel Shaw recanted his allegations against Tempest. Shaw claimed that the police forced him to falsely implicate Tempest. The motion also states that Tempest’s other alleged accomplice, his brother-in-law Robert Monteiro did not have access to a maroon car witnesses saw at the murder scene. The car’s previous owner told police that Monteiro did not buy the car until a year after the murder, but police failed to inform the defense of this exculpatory evidence.
Tempest’s lawyers point to alternative witnesses saying that police pressured and coached vulnerable drug users and people with criminal records. Laferte’s 3-year-old daughter Nicole said that a lone man wearing a white hat was at their house that day. Her account, they say, is consistent with the physical evidence gathered, that one man, not three, committed the murder.
The Picard murder haunted the area for 10 years and stained the police department’s image. Gordon Tempest was dismissed in the wake of his brother’s murder conviction and convicted in 1993 of perjury for allegedly helping to cover up his brother’s alleged involvement in the murder. He was sentenced to 7 – 20 years in prison.
James Ryan, the prosecutor of the case, now works in a private practice.