A Kern County judge has thrown out all child molestation charges against a defendant who was facing 16 years in prison because the prosecutor in the case added sentences to a transcript that indicated the defendant had admitted guilt when he hadn’t.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Murray has been placed on paid administrative leave since the Kern County Public Defender’s Office brought attention to the fact that he made changes to a transcript he sent to defense counsel in the case of Efrain Velasco-Palacios. Velasco-Palacios was charged with five counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years.
The Bakersfield Californian asked Murray to explain his actions. He told the news outlet:
… he sent an email of the translation to [Deputy Public Defender Ernie] Hinman with two inaccurate lines, knowing Hinman would notice it, and asked in the email if Hinman disputed anything in the translation.
When Hinman called his attention to the inaccurate lines, Murray told him he’d been joking with him and sent a copy without the lines in question. Murray said it was banter between two attorneys that he thought was understood as a joke and would stay between them.
“That’s what it was intended to be,” Murray said.
So what would Murray have done if Hinman didn’t call his attention to the inaccurate lines? “(The transcript) was never going to go to court,” Murray told The Californian.
We’ll have to take his word for it.
The Chief Public Defender of Kern County called Murray’s actions “bizarre, shocking and disturbing,” and said Judge H.A. Staley had little choice but to dismiss the charges against Velasco-Palacios.
While the District Attorney, Lisa Green, insists Murray’s “joke gone awry” does not rise to the level of egregiousness found in most cases where there is a finding of prosecutorial misconduct, she can only be referring to Murray’s intent – not his actions. If fabricating lines in a transcript to insert an admission of guilt isn’t exemplary of prosecutorial misconduct, I’m not sure what is.
Giving Murray the benefit of the doubt that he would have come clean with the public defender if the defender didn’t spot the insertions, the incident still exposes some pretty poor judgement. At the very least, Green should ensure she doesn’t have lawyers making these sorts of ‘jokes’ in the future, particularly when they’re handling cases where defendants on the other side of the aisle are facing 16 years in prison.