A federal judge has given the state 60 days to decide whether it will retry a New Haven man for murder or set him free following revelations that prosecutors sat on exculpatory and impeachment evidence in the case. The case is the second this year in which a court has overturned convictions won by the New Haven State Attorney’s office on account of Brady violations committed by its prosecutors.
According to Judge Charles S. Haight Jr., the defendant in the 1990 double murder case, Scott Lewis, was denied his right to a fair trial when the state suppressed evidence that its key witness was coached by police and another man had confessed to the crime. According to Marc Santora of The New York Times,
“The testimony of the witness, Ovil Ruiz, was at the heart of the case against Mr. Lewis and another man, Stefon Morant, who, in a separate trial, was also found guilty of taking part in the murders.
Judge Haight’s ruling dealt only with the Lewis case. But because the convictions of Mr. Lewis and Mr. Morant rested on much the same evidence, it is quite likely that Mr. Morant, too, will challenge his conviction.
In addition to the questions about the veracity of Mr. Ruiz’s testimony, Judge Haight found that the state was wrong to withhold information about a police informer who said that another man had confessed to the crime. The state, Judge Haight wrote, did not even tell the defense that the informer had died before the trial, which might have allowed the defense to introduce an exculpatory police report into evidence.”
The detective involved in the investigation of Lewis, Vincent Raucci, is himself a suspect character, having committed unethical and criminal behavior during his career. Lewis and his codefendant allege that Raucci set them up because he was involved with local drug dealers and the pair owed him money. In a separate case, a man’s conviction for rape was overturned after it was discovered that Raucci claimed to have sex with the victim on the same night as the alleged crime occurred. Raucci was later charged and convicted of larceny and domestic abuse in an unrelated incident. Judge Haight found that there was evidence in Lewis’s case that undermined the credibility of Raucci’s investigation also.
One such piece of evidence is that a police officer present for part of the questioning of Ruiz disclosed that Ruiz initially denied any knowledge of the murders. That is, until he was left alone with Raucci. More from The Times:
“During the course of these interactions, as described by Sweeney in his testimony, Sweeney heard Ruiz deny three times, in the manner of St. Peter in a different context, any knowledge of the Turner-Field murders,” Judge Haight wrote, “only to emerge after being closeted with Raucci as the state’s key fact witness against Lewis and Morant.”
The Lewis case presents another troubling instance of unethical conduct out of the New Haven State’s Attorney’s office. Earlier this year we wrote about the overturned convictions of four men following revelations that the state had failed to disclose a deal with its star witness in the murder case against them. The New Haven State’s Attorney’s office told The Times it was reviewing Judge Haight’s ruling before deciding how to proceed in Lewis’s cases.