A murder trial that ended in an acquittal last month has exposed widespread and troubling misconduct by the Solano County District Attorney’s office in Vallejo, CA.
Prosecutors from the Solano District Attorney’s office apparently tried to persuade the county’s chief forensic pathologist to change her findings in the Michael Daniels murder case after she concluded that the deceased wasn’t actually killed. Those same prosecutors failed to mention this to Daniels’ defense counsel, even though the pathologist told them about new evidence that was favorable to the defendant while justifying her conclusion. Prosecutors later also hid the fact that the chief pathologist was investigated for incompetence following her forced retirement last year. And then, when all this undisclosed information came to light, they tried to shift blame to the county’s attorney for the misconduct – making false statements under oath in order to do so.
Lastly, when the Daniels case finally went to trial, a DNA expert testified that she had 150 pages of notes and photographs about her testing of crime scene evidence that had not been shared with defense attorneys either. The trial prosecutor responded to the revelation by telling the judge, “I don’t have a good explanation…”
Judge Daniel Healy called the prosecution’s conduct throughout Daniels’ case “absurd,” saying: “Their abject failure to adequately handle and disclose these materials is troubling, and their public effort to blame each other for what was a joint obligation is nothing short of disgraceful.”
The Murder Case
Michael Daniels was put on trial in April, 2014 for the alleged murder of his girlfriend in 2012. Prior to trial, a series of hearings took place in which it became clear that prosecutors hadn’t turned over a wealth of important evidence to defense counsel as was required of them under the law.
In a 37-page report issued at the conclusion of the hearings, Judge Healy lambasted the Solano County District Attorney’s office for its multiple Brady violations in the case.
The Daily Republic reports:
“The prosecution does nothing but reveal its own obliviousness to its obligations under the law. (A) policy has no value when prosecution’s deeds do not match its words. The defense in this case, other cases, this court and the public at large all deserve better,” Healy wrote.
. . . (T)he problems at issue did not arise as a result of this laudable ‘Brady policy,’ ” Healy wrote, “but instead by a systematic failure on the part of the responsible government agencies to execute those policies effectively.”
Prosecutors Attempt to Change Report Findings
When forensic pathologist Dr. Hogan concluded that Daniels’ girlfriend was not actually murdered, five prosecutors and police tried to persuade her to change her findings. According to the Times-Herald, Dr. Hogan said during her recorded dictation about the autopsy that, “[Vallejo Police Detective] Mat Mustard wants this to be a homicide, and there is no way I can call this at this point, and I’m not going to be pushed into it. So, he can kiss my ass.”
Dr. Hogan says that when she invited detectives and prosecutors to meet with her to discuss her findings, she tried to explain why she couldn’t substantiate that the victim had been suffocated according to their theory of the crime. Det. Mustard allegedly responded, “what will it take for you to call this a homicide?”
Though Dr. Hogan maintains that her findings weren’t ultimately influenced by prosecutors, she equivocated about the cause of death at Daniels’ preliminary hearing when she testified that, while she could not determine whether the victim was murdered, it probably was a homicide.
Judge Healy said in his report that a meeting between Hogan and law enforcement, which involved,
“[T]hree deputy district attorneys and two police officers, all advocating for a position contrary to Dr. Hogan’s, in and of itself suggests an effort to intimidate, regardless of who organized the meeting…
The fact that not one of these five [law enforcement] persons have any forensic medical training but nonetheless are trying to convince a doctor to change her mind about forensic evidence, is in and of itself both troubling and absurd.”
According to Judge Healy, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Ganz failed to tell defense counsel about the meeting with Dr. Hogan, even though Dr. Hogan offered new evidence in support of her conclusion that the deceased was not murdered. Judge Healy called Ganz assertion that there was no need to make the meeting known to defense counsel “embarrassing“.
The Undisclosed Investigation into Hogan’s Incompetence
The Solano prosecutors also failed to disclose information relating to an investigation into 5 years-worth of autopsies performed by Dr. Hogan after she was fired in late 2013 due to concerns about her competence. The hundreds of undisclosed documents in Daniels’ case detailing evidence of mistakes or inadequate efforts by Dr. Hogan in a number of autopsies betrayed Solano District Attorney Donald du Bain’s assurances that his office’s ethics policy is of a “gold standard.” Judge Healy wrote that the Solano County DA and Sheriff took:
“…no meaningful action regarding the Hogan report materials… It does not appear to this day that those offices recognize or assume any responsibility for their mishandling of these issues.”
Prosecutor Offers False Testimony in Effort to Shift Blame
In light of all this undisclosed information, the Solano prosecutors responded by pointing the finger at the county attorney. But the evidence didn’t support their contention, and Judge Healy wasn’t buying it. From the Daily Republic:
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeff Kauffman testified under oath that a county attorney told du Bain there was nothing about Hogan to share with defense attorneys. The county attorney followed Kauffman on the witness stand and denied Kauffman’s version of what was said in a meeting and then showed an email from du Bain sent after the meeting that confirmed her version of the facts.
Healy labeled Kauffman’s testimony as “false,” but stopped short of labeling it perjury.
“. . . (T)he prosecution’s effort to absolve itself of responsibility by blaming others is clearly erroneous,” Healy said.
DNA Evidence Concealed
Despite Judge Healy’s scathing review of the prosecution’s conduct in the case leading up to trial, he allowed Daniels’ case to proceed (defense counsel had requested a dismissal of the charges). It wasn’t long into the trial, however, when the prosecution once again revealed its indifference to its obligation to disclose evidence.
During her testimony, a DNA expert who worked on the crime-scene evidence told the Court about more than 150 pages of documents which were related to her reports and were never turned over to defense counsel. When Judge Healy asked ADA Ganz to explain the nondisclosure, he reportedly,
‘hemmed and hawed a bit, telling Healy it had not occurred to him to ask the DNA expert if she had documents related to three reports she authored on the crime-scene evidence.
“I don’t have a good explanation for why I did not ask her,” Ganz told Healy. “There’s been a lot going on for me. . . . It wouldn’t have taken much for me.”’
Defense counsel once again requested that the case be dismissed due to the State’s misconduct, but were denied.
At trial, the defense argued that Daniels’ girlfriend likely drowned in her own vomit after getting drunk and passing out. Her blood alcohol level was 0.37%.
Jurors were instructed by the judge that they could “take into consideration the failure of the office of the District Attorney to turn over exculpatory evidence in reaching a decision.”
After deliberating in the case, the jury acquitted Daniels of murder and he was released.
The Daily Republic suggests this is only the beginning of troubles in court for the Solano District Attorney’s office, which will likely face numerous challenges in other cases that involved autopsies conducted by Dr. Hogan:
The outcome of Daniels’ trial is the first and so far the most drastic example of how the District Attorney’s Office’s handling of the Hogan controversy may affect pending homicide cases. Defense attorneys for the accused in the Genelle Conway-Allen case, the Vallejo Police Officer Jim Capoot killing, the Keith Osby murder and torture case, the Travis Dairy killing and many more cases were closely watching the Daniels case.