Posts Tagged ‘withheld evidence’

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.

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Willie Jerome Manning was convicted of killing a mother and a daughter in 1993 in Starkville, Mississippi. His appeals were repeatedly denied. His post-conviction challenges were based upon unreliable evidence and incompetent assistance of counsel. He was sentenced to death for the murder of Emmoline Jimmerson, 90, and Alberta Jordan, 60, during a botched robbery at their apartment. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Manning’s death sentence. He was scheduled for execution twice in 2000. For four years, Manning was granted stays to pursue three additional post-conviction challenges: (1) the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence, (2) they knowingly presented false evidence, and (3) Manning was denied effective counsel during his appeal. In May of 2013, Manning came extremely close to being executed by lethal injection for the December 1992 murders of Mississippi State University students Jon Steckler and Tiffany Miller, for which he was also convicted and sentenced to death. The Mississippi Supreme Court denied Manning’s request for DNA testing by a 5-4 decision. The judges had stated that “conclusive, overwhelming evidence of guilt” rendered testing unnecessary. The FBI during an investigation into widespread inaccurate testimony by their experts, they sent a letter to Mississippi authorities admitting mistakes in the Manning case and others regarding hair and ballistics evidence. Mere hours before he was set to die, the same court stayed his execution by a vote of 8 to 1. A few months later, the court unanimously overturned their previous decision to deny testing.

After several more denials, the state Supreme Court has now granted him a new trial in the case of Jimmerson and Jordan, based upon withheld exculpatory evidence and the prosecution presenting false evidence. The state Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision noted that when police knocked on doors in the apartment complex, the apartment the witness claimed to live in was vacant. Police withheld this information from the defense. This fact could have made an impact on the reliability of the witness’ testimony. The witness was the prosecution’s star witness, the only person to put Manning at the scene. How could the witness have seen Manning at the scene if they didn’t really live there?

“The State violated Manning’s due-process rights by failing to provide favorable, material evidence”.

Currently, Manning’s other conviction stands. DNA testing is pending in the case. Hair and ballistics testimony has been called into question and at least 4 judges have stated that the evidence presented at trial in the case of the two students has been “undermined”.

The Alabama Supreme Court denied the appeal of the Pike County District Attorney Tom Anderson, for the second time, in the Andre Ellis case.  Ellis is accused of two rapes and one burglary in a mobile home community in Troy, Alabama.  The Alabama Supreme Court has upheld the lower court’s order to grant Ellis a new trial.

In 2013, even though there was no forensic or physical evidence linking Ellis to the crimes, Ellis was convicted and sentenced to 105 years.  He filed a new trial motion citing Brady violations by the prosecution and Circuit Judge Jeff Kelley was shocked at what he discovered.  In a detailed opinion, overturning Ellis’ conviction, he found that prosecutors had failed to disclose a litany of very important pieces of information, including:

  • A police affidavit that showed one of the victims IDed a different man before changing her mind to Ellis.
  • A statement by that same victim that she never looked at her assailant despite her trial testimony that she “would [never] forget the eyes of [her] rapist.”
  • Cell phone records from that same woman that suggest the rape occurred as Ellis was caught on security camera somewhere else in the mobile home community.
  • Statements by that woman’s boyfriend that completely contradict her suppressed statements.

Judge Kelley had ordered the D.A.’s Office to turn over all witness statements and evidence in both cases before he overturned the conviction.

Judge Kelley wrote in his opinion that, “this court continues to have much concern regarding the State’s search for the truth as the evidence disclosed…makes reference to other interviews and statements…which have never been provided…to the court…”

This means that even as the prosecution argued before the court that Ellis’ conviction should not be overturned, they disobeyed a court order to disclose all evidence.  Remarkably, Judge Kelley found that the “suppression or non-disclosure was not intentional or malicious…”

In his unsuccessful petition to the supreme court, Anderson claimed that it might seem under the circumstances that the trial court had “exceeded its discretion and…authority…because…the trial court improperly combed the prosecutor’s files and incorrectly and improperly analyzed the contents…”

The Alabama Supreme Court unequivocally disagreed, it found no errors in what Judge Kelley did to correct Anderson’s Brady violations:

“[Alabama law] expressly authorizes a trial court to impose sanctions against a party that fails to comply with a discovery order…Because the State violated the trial court’s discovery order by failing to produce any and all interviews and statements regarding Q.C., we find no error in the trial court’s ruling granting Ellis’s motion for a new trial [on all counts]…It is well settled that the ‘failure to comply with [such an order] is viewed with disfavor and is condemned.”

After two losses before the Supreme Court of his office’s own causing, Anderson told the Troy Messenger, “It is what it is.  We’re disappointed and we respectfully disagree…but we know where we stand and we’ll muscle forward providing the victims are willing.”