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The Washington Post reports that a former federal prosecutor who tried eight men for the 1984 beating death of a Washington D.C. woman has testified in court that he withheld favorable evidence from the defense because he decided it was not credible.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerry Goren gave his testimony in the course of hearings before D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg to decide whether the eight men convicted of the murder of Catherine Fuller ought to have new trials. The men were between ages 16 and 21 at the time of the crime and were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to between 35 years and life in prison.

Goren testified in early May that he interviewed more than 400 witnesses in the case. Following his investigation, he withheld the following information from defense counsel:

  • Statements from three witnesses who saw two men in the alley where Fuller was attacked and were able to name them. Those two men were never charged, even though one had a record of assaulting women in the neighborhood.
  • The statement of a witness who identified a different killer than the men convicted.
  • The fact that one of the state’s key witnesses lied about a suspect’s whereabouts at the time of the killing before testifying at trial.

James McMillan, one of the men identified by witnesses as having been in the alley at the time of the crime but who was never charged, is now serving a life sentence in a Virginia prison for murdering a woman.

In addition, the Washington Post reported earlier this year:

Lawyers familiar with the case also say four witnesses — including the two men who testified against their co-defendants in exchange for lighter sentences — have recanted their testimony and told defense attorneys that their original accounts were coerced by police.

However, a recent opinion editorial in The Post by Jody Goodman, the attorney who handled the direct appeal for the government, emphasizes that this undisclosed information and the witness recantations will only lead to new trials for the men if the judge finds that there is a ‘reasonable probability’ that the new information would have affected the outcome of the case at trial. Read her editorial here.

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