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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

State panel moves to discipline OC judge for allegedly hiding evidence as prosecutor

The State Commission on Judicial Performance has launched disciplinary proceedings against an Orange County judge who, as a prosecutor, failed to disclose that police reports were fabricated in a murder case involving the death of a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy Was.

On January 5, the commission alleged that Superior Court Judge Michael Murray violated disclosure laws and convicted a former Long Beach man for the traffic death of Deputy David Pickett, who was driving to work at 5 a.m. in July 2006. False CHP report was used to justify. ,

A stove stolen from a Riverside County construction site fell off a pickup truck driven by defendant Cole Wilkins, which was landing on the 91 freeway in Anaheim. 34-year-old Pickett died after he rammed into a cement truck allegedly to escape from the stove. Wilkins was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 26 years, which was eventually reduced by appellate courts to murder and four years in prison. By then, he had served 13 years and was released.

An investigation by the California Highway Patrol initially concluded that Pickett’s driving – not stow – was the primary cause of the accident. But a sergeant later changed the report to support the prosecution’s argument that Wilkens was to blame. The same sergeant then changed another traffic report that concluded driving speed and not stow had caused three other collisions in the area. According to the commission’s charging document, they cut out the original report.

The commission said the sergeant told colleagues that he did so “because he did not think he could receive a murder sentence with the deputy sheriff’s fault for the accident,” the commission said.

According to the Judicial Commission, Murray was the chief prosecutor in the case and was told of fabricated things, but said that forgery had no bearing on the murder case. Murray was elected to the bench in June 2016.

The commission said: “You violated your obligations under Brady v. Maryland … which mandates the disclosure of evidence favorable to the accused that is either material to the offense or punishment.”

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Special masters appointed by the state’s Supreme Court will conduct hearings and the commission has the power to censure, suspend or remove Murray from the bench. Murray’s attorney Edith Mathai did not return a message seeking comment.

Over the years, Murray — a West Point graduate and formerly one of the brightest stars in the Orange County District Attorney’s office — was criticized by judges and appellate judges for her conduct in the Wilkins case.

The commission’s charging document states that Murray was informed several times during the Wilkins case by various parties that the CHP traffic report had been tampered with. A CHP investigator told them that officials there did not believe Wilkins should be tried for murder. He was even confronted by Larry Yellin, a reporter for the Orange County Register and a deputy district attorney who handled the case.

Murray denies Yellin, now a judge, that he knows anything about the false news. He also told the reporter that it was irrelevant, the commission said.

An assistant chief of CHP also contacted Murray with concerns about the report.

The document states that Murray told the CHP officer that the report did not matter because Wilkins was an escape felon and qualified for murder charges, even though the stove was about 60 miles from the site of the theft and arguably now was not running.

The commission said Murray had failed in his duty to investigate the forgery and to hand over any evidence to the defense team. Defense counsel had already informed Murray that he planned to argue that the collision was the driver’s fault as he was speeding.

Still, Murray remained silent – ​​not investigating, not disclosing, according to the commission.

As for Wilkins, he recently obtained appellate court permission to prosecute CHP, but not prosecutors, for misconduct.

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