In a recent post we highlighted four high-profile Virginia murder cases which were overturned (in part) because prosecutors didn’t hand over Brady material to defense counsel. One of those cases involved the wrongful conviction of Brandon D. Cooper who was sentenced to 55 years in prison for murder in 2012. The state’s eyewitness told a 911 operator that she couldn’t see who the shooter was and her statement was never disclosed to Cooper’s attorneys. The Richmond County Commonwealty Attorney’s office also failed to disclose that one of their other witnesses was a police informant.
In response to circuit court judge Bradley B. Cavedo’s ruling that Cooper’s conviction must be vacated and a new trial ordered, the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney said that he would revise office procedures for disclosing evidence to defendants.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports today that Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring continues to defend his assistant Commonwealth Attorney Christopher Jones’ actions but will nevertheless introduce an automatic discovery protocol for attorneys working in his office:Herring said he will be requiring his attorneys to turn over certain information to defense lawyers automatically, removing a level of discretion from his prosecutors, even though he said he prides himself on hiring attorneys who exercise good judgment.
However, it is difficult to tell how far-reaching Herring’s new policies will be since he only specifies taped 911 calls by prosecution witnesses as evidence that will be automatically disclosed.
The Times-Dispatch says Herring will also make sure his prosecutors are more diligent when investigating state witnesses’ histories for information that ought to be in the hands of defendants, such as whether they have received any benefits from cooperating with authorities.
Herring called the Cooper case a “painful lesson,” suggesting that assistant CA Chris Jones wasn’t aware that one of his witnesses was a police informant. The defense attorney representing Cooper, however, lays the blame squarely at Jones’ feet for having committed a “classic ethics violation” and has said that he will file a bar complaint against Jones if Judge Cavedo doesn’t. The Times-Dispatch reports that attorney David Baugh intends to ask the Richmond Circuit Court to dismiss the case against Cooper in its entirety due to the prosecutorial misconduct committed by the CA’s office.