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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ramsey County prosecutors withheld evidence, convicted killer argues

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Blogger Bob said...

Judge to decide if evidence was withheld in '05 St. Paul slaying
By Emily Gurnon
Article Last Updated: 06/25/2008 12:12:51 AM CDT

A convicted murderer's case will go back to Ramsey County District Court so a judge can decide if prosecutors withheld key evidence from the defense.

And if they did, should the man be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea?

It's the second time in a year an appeals court has put under scrutiny the Ramsey County prosecutor's handling of evidence in a murder case. In the earlier case, the court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial.

Rafael Hafiz Bryson, now 24, of St. Paul, argued before the Minnesota Court of Appeals that prosecutors had DNA evidence that might have exonerated him, but did not tell his defense before he pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors said Bryson shot and killed Joshua Smith, 26, on Feb. 27, 2005, near a convenience store at Case Avenue and Burr Street in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul.

A witness told police Bryson did it because the man wouldn't hand over his money. Police believed Bryson and Smith didn't know each other.

In September 2005, a month before his trial was to start, Bryson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for 23 years in prison, a lower sentence than called for in sentencing guidelines.

The prosecution had given Bryson's attorney several pieces of evidence.

Two bullet casings found near the victim were matched to a gun recovered from the roof of a building Bryson had run past during a police chase. And gunshot residue was found on the sleeve and pocket of the sweat shirt Bryson was reportedly wearing at the time of the shooting.
But there were two more pieces to the puzzle:

His DNA was not found under the dead man's fingernails, and no blood was found on the shirt.

The report with those details was dated a month before Bryson's plea — but the defense didn't know about it.

"It is undisputed that the state had the evidence — the test results — and did not reveal them to (Bryson) until the prosecution was long since completed," wrote James Peterson, assistant state public defender, in his brief to the appeals court.

"Had the state informed (Bryson) of this evidence, he would not have pleaded guilty but would have instead insisted on proceeding to trial."

Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner firmly denied withholding evidence: "There is no allegation here that the prosecution hid the ball. None whatsoever."

What happened, she said, was that the DNA results had been completed by the lab but the prosecution didn't have them until a day before the post-conviction hearing.

"The minute we had it, we sent it over (to Bryson's attorney)," Gaertner said.

The appeals court ruling, written by Judge Harriet Lansing for the three-judge panel that included Chief Judge Edward Toussaint and Judge Natalie Hudson, did not declare wrongdoing by the prosecution.

Rather, the judges said they did not have enough facts to determine whether:

The prosecution had the information at the time of Bryson's plea.

The information would have helped him.

The alleged failure to disclose it played a significant role in Bryson's decision to plead guilty.
Last summer, the Court of Appeals ruled that convicted murderer Gordon Weaver should get a new trial, in part because an assistant medical examiner was allowed to testify about lab results that prosecutors said were no longer available.

Prosecutors said during trial that the lab report had been destroyed as a part of routine procedure and that the lab technician's identity was unknown. The defense therefore could not cross-examine the technician.

But the county admitted in July that, before the trial ended, prosecutors knew what the defense did not — that the test result records did exist, and the technician could have testified.

Weaver, a former White Bear Lake businessman, was convicted in the 1999 death of his wife, Jean.

The test results were important in the case because they helped determine cause of death, which was disputed at trial.

Weaver's new trial is to begin in January 2009.

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would someone admit or plead guilty to a crime they didn't commit ?

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People do it all the time. It starts when they get someone that is innocent. The Prosecutor is so interested in getting a conviction, they over charge the crime and then try to get you to make a deal or they will add more charges. Some people take what they think will be the best way out of the system for them after much harrassment and threats by the Prosecutor. Wehter or not the guy actually is guilty or not doesn't even come into play. If they can get a conviction, an innocent guy looks just as good on the job resume as the guilty one does. Who's ever gonna know? The Government has the credibility.

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty clear this guy plead guilty because he did it. There is a witness, the gun, gun casings and gun powder residue on him.

The info not given to him was that there was none of his DNA on the dead guy and none of the dead guys DNA on him. That info might, MIGHT have helped him in his trial, so if he wants he can have a trial and spin the wheel on if he gets more or less time or if someone thinks he is not guilty with a witness and gun powder on him...


Chuck Repke

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chuck should run for mayor of St.Paul. We always seem to get the know it alls and assholes in office.

9:31 AM  

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