By David M. Greenwald
Oakland, CA – In March, an Alameda County judge refused to grant a defense motion to recuse the DA’s office from prosecuting Shawn Martin, whose conviction had been overturned when an appellate court found that the prosecutor had misstated the law and the trial judge failed to correct it. The case went back to trial and this time the jury acquitted Shawn Martin of murder and manslaughter.
The case stemmed from an April 23, 2014, shooting of a neighbor. According to Richard Foxall, Martin’s attorney in both trials, Martin fatally shot the woman in self-defense because he believed she was digging in her pockets for a handgun.
Foxall told the Vanguard that Martin was acquitted fairly quickly of murder but the jury deliberated for a week on the lesser charge of manslaughter before reaching a full verdict and acquitting him last Wednesday.
Martin has been in custody since 2014—seven years, including four years in prison on a 40-to-life sentence before it was overturned last year by the appellate court.
“It was truly a reasonable doubt case,” Foxall said. “It actually wasn’t very different from the discussions we had with the first jury. It really vindicated what the appellate court said, which was the first time if the jury had been properly instructed they probably would not have come to that verdict.”
He said, “This essentially was the same set of issues which was that, after all of the evidence, the jury thought it was reasonable to believe that the decedent had a firearm. That’s what Shawn was responding to.”
Unless the district attorney proved that it wasn’t self-defense, “they had to assume that it was.”
One of the issues raised in the motion by Foxall was the failure of the district attorney to extend an offer.
He noted a conversation in January of 2021 where the “supervising attorney indicated that he would make no offer to Mr. Martin, and that, should Mr. Martin make an offer of twenty-one years, the district attorney would not accept it.”
Writes Foxall, “The supervising attorney’s subsequent conduct indicates that he refused to even accept an offer that he had previously extended to Mr. Martin.”
He indicated that “he would only consider an offer from the defendant that ended in life.” The DA put forth a 15-to-life offer which had already been rejected by the defense, which Foxall argued is evidence of failure to negotiate in good faith.
With the acquittal that appears to have backfired by the prosecution.
Foxall said that he thought it was hard for them to understand the role that the jury instruction and misconduct by the DA’s office played in the initial verdict.
In his motion, Foxall noted, “This was not the only time the court pointed out the role that the prosecutor’s misconduct played in the reversal.”
He told the Vanguard that “there’s a pattern and a practice on the part of the Ford (the original prosecutor) in doing cases where the defense is self-defense and misstating the law—this was not the first time or the second time he’s done it.
“Many of those cases have ended in either manslaughter verdicts or hung juries or not guilty verdicts, so as a result there’s not even an appellate trail on them,” Foxall explained. “He’s very vested in doing these self-defense cases and then going in and misstating the law. That’s just what he does.”
Not only is he not being punished or held accountable, but if anything, “he’s held in high regard by that office.”
Foxall put this all into a motion before the court that was heard in March.
He wrote, “We would not ask the court to recuse the district attorney if the misconduct in this case was an isolated example. But it is not. Over the past decade, there has been a well-documented pattern of misconduct by some attorneys in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office that has gone uncorrected and unpunished.”
In his arguments before the court on Thursday, Foxall said, “I didn’t file this motion lightly. I believe this motion is meritorious.”
He said that, over the past year, citing three cases including this one, “I have become more and more concerned about the behavior of (the DA’s office). These are three cases… in which the appeals court explicitly overturned based on misconduct.”
He noted that during a meeting with Assistant DA David Stein, he was “lacking all concern that the appellate court found the behavior of one of his lawyers improper.” He said, “His response to me was we got a conviction the first time, why should I be concerned?”
But the judge rejected these contentions. “I don’t think in this particular case that this case arises merely to an extent where one can say that misconduct so permeates the district attorney’s office as shown by the several cases cited where the appellate court has agreed that there is misconduct, that the district attorney’s office is so permeated with committing misconduct that the district attorney assigned to this case would be required if not ordered to commit misconduct thereby interfering with the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” Judge Hymer said in his oral ruling following nearly an hour of arguments by the public defender, district attorney and a representative from the AG’s office.
The judge said that the defense has not explained how the defendant would not get a fair trial in this case, noting “there has been absolutely no showing that the prosecutor assigned to this case has ever committed misconduct in the past.”
Instead, the judge felt that the motion has been “engendered out of frustration of offering a more stringent deal that was offered before trial of the first case.
“That has nothing to do with whether the defendant will receive a fair trial in this case,” Hymer added. He cited case law showing that “the likelihood that the defendant would not receive a fair trial must be actual, it cannot merely be apparent.”
Michael O’Connor, the assistant DA currently working the case, was dismissive of the motion, arguing, “This is not a legitimate motion.”
Instead, he said “what this is is a license to hurl reckless accusations and invectives against the Alameda County District Attorney.”
He dismissed the charges as “reckless” and said, “We stand on a long tradition, for over a century a belief in integrity is our life’s story.”
O’Connor declined to go step by step over the cases, saying, “For the simple reason that even if they were true, and for the most part we contend they’re at best distorted, it would not establish the prima facie case that the defendant needs to establish a hearing.”
Foxall knew this motion was a long shot at best.
“The standard for recusing a district attorney’s office is very high and the judge was not going to be reversed by making the decision that he made, and so he took that path,” he said. “It was not an unexpected result.”
That they got an appellate court to overturn the verdict, Foxall said, was highly unusual. However, he noted that last summer there were four cases out of Alameda County that were reversed by appellate courts.
Foxall said, “I think that’s a reflection of the degree to which the trial courts and the district attorneys have just treaded far too close to the line and not been careful enough.”
In the end, Shawn Martin and his attorney were upset that they were not offered a reasonable offer by district attorney—however, now Martin will walk free after seven years.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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