Lawyers Debate Witness Availabilities for Trial Date of Murder Suspect

By Koda Slingluff

SACRAMENTO, CA – As if trials have been easy during COVID time, a murder suspect’s trial readiness conference got convoluted this week here in Sacramento County Superior Court, with attorneys at odds over what to do with in-custody witnesses.

The conference concerned Lakquan Solomon, who is suspected of shooting and killing 31-year-old Brandon Campbell in 2017. While the defense counsel sought to push back the trial date, the prosecution objected strongly, given the witnesses involved.

Solomon’s private defense attorney, Pete Harned, filed a written motion for continuance, focusing on two witnesses who had both been unavailable for interviews until this week. The motion would push back the date of Solomon’s jury trial and give Harned more time.

The first of the two witnesses, referred to as D.C., was allegedly with Solomon before and after the shooting took place. Harned described him as a “participant witness,” whom he suspects was present for the shooting itself. Because of this, the witness’s statements could be crucial in developing a defense for Solomon.

However, this witness is in custody at the San Luis Obispo Men’s Colony.

Harned explained, “I have been trying to get an interview for about eight months. But the prison will not permit my investigator to access him because of the COVID pandemic.”

But, very recently, the situation at the prison changed. Now, Harned is hopeful that he can access D.C.—if he can just get a little more time.

“About a week ago, they began opening up to visits, because they have reached a certain saturation point. I am working on funding—it’s been approved, I understand—and travel accommodations for my investigator to go to San Luis Obispo to meet with this witness,” he added.

The second witness, K.W., was in communication with Solomon immediately after the shooting. She exchanged texts and phone calls with the defendant.

“It’s the prosecution’s belief that these [texts and calls] relate to the murder and might be considered admissions,” Harned said, explaining the importance of the witness.

But for over a year now, this witness was unavailable to the defense counsel. According to Harned, she has “been in the wind for as long as [he] has had the case, which is about 18 months.”

Just last week, the witness was apprehended, and now Harned has the opportunity to reach out to her as part of the investigation. He has submitted funding to have her interviewed by an investigator, but would need more time in order to ensure his information collection is done before the trial begins.

Additionally, there have been numerous communication difficulties between Harned and his client.

“I don’t want to go into a great deal of detail, but he has not been well. Significantly unwell,” Harned said to Judge Michael Sweet. “He’s not been going to court. I’ve been uncomfortable seeing him, and he’s been even intubated off site for a while. So my communication with him was poor.”

Harned also emphasized that there have been problems with the phones at Solomon’s jail, making confidential communication problematic. The end result of this, Harned says, is that he is “barely able to speak with [his client].”

Harned said that final reason for his motion for continuance is important, “but it’s the least important of the group.”

The reason is that Harned prioritizes making sure his clients see video and audio of significant witnesses in their cases.

“It’s my practice to always make that happen,” he explained.

Typically, county interns would help with video and audio. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this service is not available. Instead, Harned needs to find a private party to record witnesses.

“I have found a party [to make the videos], just last week. I submitted authorization.” Harned said to Judge Sweet. “So I do think it’s important that I meet with my client, that he sees some of these videos, although we have some reports. But primarily, I do need to talk to these witnesses, judge.”

Totaling all of these factors, Harned believed he would be ready for trial in 30 days at the earliest.

Deputy District Attorney Kristen Andersen objected to defense attorney Harned’s motion for continuance.

Regarding D.C., Andersen pointed out that he had already spoken to law enforcement at the time of the crime. When speaking to law enforcement, D.C. did not “put himself at the scene,” meaning he claimed to not be present for the shooting.

“So I don’t know, unless counsel believes that the witness will speak with him, I don’t believe that would be a good basis for a continuance.” Andersen reasoned.

“He is currently in prison on an offense, and I don’t know that he will place himself at the scene of the murder. So I think there’s some 5th Amendment issues there. He did give at least one, potentially two interviews, to law enforcement initially, and he did not place himself at the scene, although he placed himself with Mr. Harned’s client about six hours prior to the murder.”

Regarding the second witness, K.W., Andersen argued that the defense councsel could simply “go speak with her at any point.”

Andersen also took issue with keeping K.W. in custody for any longer than necessary, given that she is in her second trimester of pregnancy.

The prosecutor stated, “The case was filed in February 2019 and now we’re in a position where we have a material witness who is pregnant in custody. So if the court is going to grant it, which I’m opposed to, I would ask that it be the shortest amount of time possible to accomplish the things Mr. Harned needs to get it to move to trial.”

Harned responded to Andersen’s objection, agreeing with her point that D.C. had already given statements. But he refused to let her objection paint the whole picture.

“I am, as Ms. Andersen might imagine, privy to other information that is not in the reports. Which leads me to believe he’s a more significant witness than anticipated,” Harned argued.

Regarding why he could not just go see his witnesses, Harned audaciously stated that, “the way it kind of works, as the court well knows, is I can’t simply send people places.”

He continued to speak about the funding process and travel arrangements needed to interview witnesses in custody, which he saw as necessary for both witnesses.

He argued that keeping K.W. in custody longer, though unfortunate, was not enough of a reason to dismiss the entire motion. “I know [K.W]’s been quite uncooperative. But I think Mr. Solomon’s rights have to trump her any convenience. She’s here because she wouldn’t cooperate.”

Judge Sweet took a moment to acknowledge how tough of an issue this was to address.

“I know what Ms. Andersen is thinking, I believe. She wouldn’t even oppose it but for this witness, I’m guessing. It is a sticky situation,” the judge said, with Andersen nodding in agreement.

Interestingly, Sweet’s comments indicated that he had presided over the pregnant witness’s last hearing.

“It’s an uncooperative witness, that’s why she’s warranted in custody,” Sweet said, “ I heard her last hearing and was not inclined to release her because of the difficulty…securing her. So I’m sensitive to that.”

Sweet continued, “I don’t like to keep witnesses in custody for that reason only. But on the other hand, like you’re saying, he’s charged with a 187 [penal code for murder], and it’s a very difficult situation.”

Defense attorney Harned suggested shaving a week off his request, adding, “I really am hustling, Judge.”

To compromise, Judge Sweet suggested they set an earlier date as a status update. That way, if the witnesses become more or less available in the coming weeks, the court can move forward accordingly.

“So my preference would be, yes, I’ll grant the request. You have stated good cause. But I do not want to set it out as far as you want to currently. I’d rather have a shorter trial date. If you can produce good cause to have a shorter trial date farther out, I’m happy to hear that. If that works.” Sweet concluded.

The court determined to have another trial readiness conference on April 7, with the jury trial April 12.

Koda is a junior at UC Berkeley, majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Rhetoric. He is from Ventura, CA.

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