Prosecutors, MPs and OC lawyers continue to point fingers in soon to be overturned murder conviction – Orange County Register
As an Orange County judge prepared to overturn a 2010 murder conviction after allegations of misconduct, sheriff’s deputies on Friday accused prosecutors of failing to turn over the evidence to defense attorneys before nine years after the trial.
Juan Viramontes, president of the Orange County Assistant Sheriffs Association, said MPs handling the case in 2009 correctly booked a CD recording of a prison informant used in the investigation against Paul Gentile Smith. But the district attorney’s office did not turn over the recording to the defense until 2019 – long after Smith was convicted of the stabbing death of a marijuana trafficker in Sunset Beach.
“The deputies did their job by reserving the evidence. Providing evidence to the defense is the job of the prosecutor, ”Viramontes said. The prosecutor in charge of the case was Ebrahim Baytieh, now senior deputy prosecutor and candidate for the post of judge. The court file contains a 2019 letter from Baytieh to the defense saying he had just been made aware of the evidence.
Baytieh referred all questions to office spokesperson Kimberly Edds.
“Win at all costs” mentality
First-term district attorney Todd Spitzer admitted his predecessor had a “win at any cost” mentality that is no longer tolerated.
“There is no question that an interview with an informant linked to this accused existed and was in the possession of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department,” Spitzer said. “What is not in dispute is the fact that the prosecutor had a duty to find out for the defense.” He didn’t mention Baytieh by name.
“Due to this failure to provide a proper discovery, I was forced to make the very difficult decision to concede that a murderer sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole should be given a new trial,” he said. Spitzer said.
On Thursday, Spitzer asked Superior Court Judge Patrick Donohue to order a new trial for Smith in the murder of Robert Haugen because MPs refused to testify about the use of informants. The demand came at the start of what was supposed to be a hearing to find out whether Smith’s civil rights had been violated because prosecutors and MPs unlawfully used several prison informants on him and did not tell the defense about them. than one.
Donohue said he would overturn the conviction on Monday.
Not alone in the “blanket”
Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders, representing Smith with Deputy Public Defender Sara Ross, explained on Friday that the hidden tape revealed that three prison informants had been used on Smith. But only one testified at the trial, claiming Smith had just confessed to him. Sanders said the tape could have been used to prevent these alleged confessions from being presented to jurors.
“But make no mistake, the prosecutor did not accomplish this cover-up alone. Sheriff’s investigators interviewed and then drafted reports in a way that hid what they knew about (the recorded informant’s) real role in illegally obtaining evidence, ”Sanders said.
The Smith debacle is a consequence of the so-called Orange County snitch scandal, the discovery by Sanders from 2014 that prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies were surreptitiously exploiting a group of prison informants to coax the confessions of the targeted detainees. It is illegal to use informants on defendants who have lawyers and who have already been charged. The extent of the use of informants was not disclosed to defense lawyers.
The live operation was discovered during hearings for mass murderer Scott Dekraai, who killed eight people in October 2011 in a Seal Beach living room but escaped the death penalty and was sentenced to prison in life because of this misconduct.