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A federal judge has thrown out a murder conviction and death sentence in Philadelphia because prosecutors failed to disclose key police reports before trial.

Shawnfatee M. Bridges spent 15 years on Philadelphia’s death row for the 1996 murder of two cousins. The state has until August 21 to retry him or else he must be released, according to U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody who issued her ruling in Bridges v. Beard last Tuesday.

The Reading Eagle says that Bridges was denied police reports that would have allowed his defense team to impeach the state’s key witness against him:

In a 114-page opinion, Brody concluded that former District Attorney Mark C. Baldwin did not provide the defense with police records for key prosecution witness George Robles. She said the information linking Robles to four other shootings could have been used to impeach Robles’ testimony.
 
Robles, now 38, of Reading testified that the slayings were in retaliation for the Banks cousins breaking into Bridges’ home.”
 
There is no doubt that the police records relating to Robles are impeaching, and this is favorable to Bridges,” Brody wrote. “They present evidence that Robles was involved in some way in at least four shootings in an 18-month period.”
 

According to the Court’s opinion, Bridges was charged as a non-shooter accomplice in the case. He did not deny that he was present at the scene when the cousins were killed; however, at trial he said that he was not aware that his co-defendant was going to shoot them. In fact, he said that he used a gun that he found on the ground to fire at his co-defendant in order to get him to stop shooting.

Robles’ testimony was used by the state to prove that Bridges had planned for the cousins to die, testifying that Bridges came to his house before the murder with a gun and said he was “gonna kill them.”

Bridges argued on appeal that the police records about Robles’ prior interactions with law enforcement could have been used to show that Robles’ “was engaged in the sale of drugs and other associated ills, like gun crimes, prior to Bridges’ trial; that Robles was not a reluctant witness, as the prosecution claimed, but instead a willing cooperator who had volunteered information in exchange for leniency in the past; and that Robles’ desire to protect his drug enterprise provided a strong incentive for him to falsify his testimony to aid the prosecution.”

The Court agreed, stating: “Robles’ numerous run-ins with the law—none of which resulted in his arrest—could have been used to demonstrate his potential bias in favor of law enforcement.” The Court suggested that avoiding arrest and defending his drug business may have been motives for Robles to lie to police about the murders.

Judge Brody concluded that the withheld police reports were Brady material because (1) they were favorable to the defense as potential impeachment evidence and (2) there was a reasonable probability that, had this evidence been disclosed, Bridges would not have been convicted of first degree murder.

According to news reports, the state plans to appeal Judge Brody’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and will retry Bridges if unsuccessful.

Post updated: May 2, 2013 @ 5:58pm.

 

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