Judge Halts Murder Trial After New Evidence Surfaces

June 12, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

The trial process is long and complex. There are many hearings and motions heard before the trial even starts. However, once the trial has started and a jury has been seated, then it’s usually off to the races and the trial is conducted with no stopping.

During COVID we had many trials suspended due to courthouse closures and concerns from potential jury members about exposure to COVID. However, the courts have now been up and running and trying to catch up on their backlog. It is unusual for a trial to be suspended once it’s started, but that’s exactly what has happened in this case

In this blog, we will cover an interesting story where the judge stopped a trial due to new evidence and the importance of what Brady & Giglio evidence is to a criminal trial.

Shooting Incident on January 13, 2019

On January 17, 2019, Preston Hart was arrested on charges of second-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon for a shooting that occurred on January 13th. Hart was identified by eyewitnesses.

January 13, the Tallahassee Police Department responded to a homicide call at Springfield Arms Apartment. The victim was identified as Jason Joseph, who was shot three times. This shooting occurred approximately around 4:00-4:30 am.

According to the court records, a confidential “Witness 1” was arrested for unrelated charges (on January 14) and told the police that they could assist the police in finding the murder weapon and identifying the killer. Witness 1’s information led to the discovery of Witness 2 who informed police that they were with Joseph the day of the shooting and witness the shooting.

The shooting occurred due to a drug deal gone wrong. A black sedan pulled up to Witness 2 and Joseph. The passenger offered them narcotics. Joseph began to speak to the passenger (who was later identified as Hart). The conversation turned nasty as Joseph and the passenger (and the driver “Witness 3”) exchanged expletives. Then, multiple shots were fired, and Joseph died from his injuries. Witness 2 identified Hart in a photo lineup and named Witness 3. Witness 3 was able to name Witness 2, did not know the name of Joseph, and was able to identify Hart in a photo.

The Trials

Hart’s original trial was delayed due to Covid-19. His trial occurred earlier this year in April and ended in a mistrial after the jury could not agree upon a verdict.

The retrial was set for June 7 to June 9, however, after the first day of trial, new evidence emerged. The Judge paused the trial due to this evidence. Hart was originally denied bond, but after resetting the trial date, the judge granted Hart’s bond request and set his bond to $250,000.

Neither side has specified what the evidence that emerged contained, but the prosecutor, Lorena Bueno, filed a statement with the court stating that the prosecutors believe that justice demands that Hart be released from custody

In response to the halt, Hart’s attorney, John Eagan, stated,

“In 32 years as a defense attorney – and I’ve done hundreds of cases, maybe thousands, – this has never occurred before and may never happen again”

Lorena Bueno also stated:

“Everybody involved wants to ensure a fair trial, to honor the victim, and to protect the rights of the defendant.”

His trial has now been moved from July 25 to July 27.

While we don’t know what the evidence was, it is possible that the evidence required disclosure under Brady and Giglio.

Brady Evidence

Brady evidence comes from the Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland. In this case, Brady and co-defendant Boblit were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The co-defendants were tried separately and Brady’s trial occurred first. Brady took the stand and testified that Boblit was the person who did the actual killing. Brady’s attorney’s requested that the prosecutor allow Brady to examine Boblit on his prior statements where Boblit admitted to committing the homicide. The prosecution refused.

The  Supreme Court held that the suppression of Boblit’s confession was a violation of Brady’s Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the government follow certain procedures to ensure that there is a fair trial before a person is deprived of life, liberty, or property. Specifically in Brady’s case, the prosecution’s suppression of evidence that is favorable to the defendant upon request violates the Due Process clause where the evidence is material to either guilt or to punishment (this evidence is also called exculpatory evidence). Whether or not the evidence was withheld through good or bath faith by the prosecutor does not change the fact that the retrial is required for justice. In the case, the Court wrote, “society wins not only when the guilty are convicted but when criminal trials are fair; our system of the administration of justice suffers when any accused is treated unfairly.”

Giglio Case

Giglio is another landmark case that specifies the ruling in Brady. In Giglio v United States, the defendant was convicted of passing forged money orders and sentenced to five years in prison. Giglio’s attorneys discovered during the appeals process that the Government failed to disclose a promise made to a key witness that the witness would not be prosecuted if the witness testified for the Government against Giglio.

The witness in question was Robert Taliento, who was a coconspirator in the crime, and the only witness linking Giglio to the crime. Taliento was a bank teller who knowingly cashed forged money orders. During the trial, Giglio’s attorney’s crossed Taliento’s testimony. The attorney’s asked Taliento if he was given immunity from the prosecution to testify for Giglio’s trial. Taliento said no and Government attorneys affirmed that the answer was no, there was no immunity granted to Taliento. However, through the appeals process, Giglio’s attorneys found out that this was not true. There were documents from US Attorneys that said if Taliento didn’t testify against Giglio then he would be prosecuted.

The Court ruled that the prosecutor’s conduct violated the Brady ruling. Holding that impeachment evidence falls within the Brady rule. Impeachment evidence is evidence that relates to the witness’s credibility. In this case, the witness (Taliento) could have been impeached by knowingly lying on the stand, and the defense should have been able to confront Taliento with the truth (which is that Taliento did indeed have prosecutorial immunity). When the reliability of a witness may be determinative of guilt or innocence, then the prosecutor’s non-disclosure of this evidence affecting credibility falls within the Brady rule and justifies a new trial.

The burden of discovery is heavily on the prosecutors, and here the Government’s case primarily depended on Taliento’s testimony. The testimony was so important that without the testimony there would have been no indictment let alone a guilty verdict.

Learn more about Brady and Giglio evidence in our blog here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

The criminal trial process is scary and hard to understand. Navigating the legal world is not something you want to go about on your own. It’s imperative to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to help you through the process.

Don Pumphrey and his Tallahassee criminal defense attorneys at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients all across the state for various criminal charges. We understand the importance of strategizing a strong defense and will work tirelessly to ensure your freedom. Call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message for a free consultation today.

Written by Melissa MacNicol

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