Late Discovery of Key Evidence Causes Delay in Murder Case

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courtroom.jpgA jury had already completed a day’s worth of answering of a questionnaire in advance of a murder case that was set to begin on Wednesday involving Jesus Solis.  However, a significant development has pushed the murder trial back to September as late evidence emerged involving latent finger prints on the SUV involved in the case that match Mr. Solis.

Prosecutors claim their experts say those fingerprints could have only have been left by the driver of the vehicle.  If accurate, that would put Mr. Solis in the driver’s seat and lend credence to prosecution’s claims that he fired the shots that killed the victim in this case. However, the case is tricky to begin with and the other suspects have fled to Mexico.

According to Deputy District Attorney James Walker, who is retiring from the department this week, the prints were found on the windshield of the SUV.  On July 8, 2010, he asked if the fingerprints had been compared to those of the suspect and was told that they had not been previously compared. The prints came back a match with Mr. Solis and now their investigator claims that they could only have been made by the driver of the vehicle.

However, Public Defender Dean Johansson is not convinced that is accurate and wants his own expert to examine the evidence.  On Wednesday he expressed unhappiness that the first he learned that there were outstanding fingerprints was on July 19, 2010, the eve of the beginning of the trial.

Moreover, it was not simply fingerprints, but also DNA evidence that came in, which he believes are exculpatory.  He argued that while he does not believe this will hurt his client’s case, he does believe it completely changes the case that had been based entirely on circumstantial evidence. 

The DNA evidence, according to Mr. Johansson, that came in showed DNA from a woman and two other unidentified men, neither of which are Mr. Solis. There is a palm print found on the steering wheel which is not a match with Mr. Solis. And finally there is a ballistics report that would also appear to exonerate the defendant.

Mr. Johansson requested that the case should either be dismissed or this new evidence excluded.

James Walker responded that no one had hidden the ball on this case. He notified Mr. Johansson on July 19 as soon as he discovered the fingerprint match and made the report accessible.

He questioned Mr. Johansson’s interpretation that the weapon fired would have been a 9 mm weapon, and he read from the DOJ ballistics report that it was most likely a 357 magnum.

He said he was concerned about getting facts late but this was a case where there was no time waiver by the defendant.  (Defendants have the right to a trial within 60 days, but typically waive that right due to the necessity of investigating the case for their defense. In this case, Mr. Solis was adamant about not waiving his time).

Judge Mock ruled that there is nothing to suggest that this late discovery was tactical or that it was an attempt by the government to blindside the defense.  He said that the DOJ was understaffed and under-budgeted and that lead to a slower evaluation of evidence than they might like, especially in a case with no time waiver.  The delay therefore was not purposeful or willful and therefore Judge Mock saw no cause for to dismiss the case or exclude evidence.

Judge Mock continued that the people did comply with the laws regarding the discovery of evidence when they did become aware of that evidence and therefore he saw no legal basis for limiting the evidence.

As a result, Mr. Johansson asked for a limited time waiver and the case has been continued until September 13, seven weeks from now, so that they can evaluate the new evidence.

While it seemed highly unlikely that Judge Mock would rule to dismiss the case or limit the evidence, it should be pointed out that his description of what happened is not completely accurate.  The prosecution did to some extent blindside the defense here.

Mr. Walker found out on July 8 that there were fingerprints that had yet to be identified.  He immediately had them analyzed.  However, Mr. Johansson did not find out about it until the DOJ came back with a match, on Monday afternoon as he was preparing his case to bring it to trial.  Why did Mr. Walker not inform the defense of the untested fingerprints on July 8?

In that sense, he did blindside the defense as the defense did not even know that this new evidence was in the realm of possibility.

Even with the evidence, this is going to be a difficult to case to get a conviction on.  There is nothing to tie Mr. Solis to the actual firing of the weapon. The evidence is mixed at best as to whether Mr. Solis was driving the car.  While the prosecution may testify that only the driver could have made the fingerprints, it should be pointed out that they are on the outside of the vehicle, which makes that speculation at best. Other evidence, especially the DNA and the palm print, are exculpatory.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 thoughts on “Late Discovery of Key Evidence Causes Delay in Murder Case”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “In that sense, he did blindside the defense as the defense did not even know that this new evidence was in the realm of possibility.”

    I do not practice criminal law, but insofar as I am aware, the only duty a prosecutor has in regard to exculpatory evidence is to reveal it to the defense once it is determined to be exculpatory. I don’t think the prosecutor has to make the defense aware of evidence that MIGHT prove to be exculpatory at some point in time down the road. Otherwise the prosecution would have to inundate the defense with everything it is doing, which would be burdensome and not very useful. Some attorney more knowledgeable than I can jump in here if I am incorrect…

  2. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “There’s also an issue about late discovery and limits as to what you can introduce after the period of discovery ends.”

    A judge usually errs on the side of admitting evidence…

  3. Themis

    “A judge usually errs on the side of admitting evidence…”

    Unfortunately that is not usually the case when it comes to defendants in this county.

  4. Mr Obvious

    [quote]There’s also an issue about late discovery and limits as to what you can introduce after the period of discovery ends[/quote].

    I’m sure you wouldn’t be complaining about time frame if the DA was trying to provide evidence that may lend itself to innocence. If the evidence were to lend itself to innocence do we exclude it if the trial has already started?

  5. Roger Rabbit

    The spirit and intent of law is that all chances of an innocent person going to jail be limited. Discovery keeps the playing field equal, it gives the DEF a chance to see how strong the case is, and a chance to challenge and confirm the findings of the state and what the likelihood of a conviction is so the DEF can plan their strategy. The State/Gov has the burden of proof and discovery keeps the Gov in check so it cannot just go after people they don’t like.

    So hiding, covering, giving late, burying harmful discovery in the middle of lots of papers, forgetting to discover, interpreting evidence as “non-discoverable”, partial discovery, late or delaying discovery, telling cops to keep things out of reports, not calling cops or witnesses that don’t agree or help the DA and many other tricks are all used by the less ethical DAs.

    This is a tragedy and a misuse of the system designed to protect the people against over zealous DAs and political prosecutions. It is a the blind man that justifies and condones this from it’s Gov officials and Mr. Reisig is the worst of the worst. Nothing is in the open, nothing is above board, secrets and slight of hand are his tools to conceal and confuse the truth. That is not what our justice system is meant to be.

    This the not the first time this happens, it happens as a matter of routine and since there is no consequence, why should it stop, if you get away with it the majority of the time and even when you get caught, nothing happens, why should you stop?(In Mr. Reisig’s eyes).

    In the eyes of honorable people, you don’t do it and you stop it since it is wrong and not in the spirit of justice and honesty.

  6. Mr Obvious

    I don’t believe the DA’s office was withholding evidence. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at the rules of discovery but I don’t recall the DA having to turn over anything that MIGHT be evidence later. As soon as it was discovered to be evidence it was turned over. I say good job to the DA’s office for making something available to the defense as soon as it was DISCOVERED.

    People also have to realize that prosecutors are people. Everyone makes mistakes and I am sure they are made on both sides of the courtroom. Evidence is thrown out when prosecutors act outside the rules. It doesn’t appear to be the case here.

  7. Roger Rabbit

    When it is a matter of routine and standing orders from DA, it is not a mistake or oversight, it is unethical behavior done with the intent to hide, conceal and ensure wins over justice.

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