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After what a trail judge called “a persistent course of conduct designed to prejudice the defendants,” by the prosecutor in an attempted murder trial in Dukes County, a jury has acquitted both defendants.

As reported by the Martha’s Vineyard Times, the case stems from an altercation last year in Oak Bluffs between two pairs of men, one white and the other African-American, which resulted in the arrest and indictment of the two African-American men.

But last week, Judge Richard J. Chin found that their prosecution had been tainted by a variety of misconduct by Assistant District Attorney Laura Marchard.

The trial was notable for the sharp rebuke Judge Chin delivered to the prosecutor. On Thursday, October 30, Judge Chin halted the trial, dismissed the jury for the day, and conducted a hearing in his chambers on several issues…

In question was a one-on-one interview Ms. Marchard conducted with a potential witness, Christine Arenburg, about two months after the incident. After the interview, according to court documents, Ms. Marchard told Ms. Arenburg she would not be called as a witness for the prosecution.

When defense attorneys questioned Ms. Arenburg before the trial, she said she told Ms. Marchard that “the Cray brothers were lying through their teeth,” and that “there was no fight at the Ritz and no knife at the Ritz,” according to a deposition conducted by defense attorneys. She also said in the deposition she felt race played a part in the fight.

The defense attorneys argued that Ms. Arenburg’s statements were evidence that tended to corroborate the defendants’ version of events and should have been turned over to the defense…

Defense attorneys also argued that Ms. Marchard intimidated defense witnesses, by asking a judge to advise them of their right not to self-incriminate themselves. They said her repeated insistence that the judge advise defense witnesses of their rights amounted to a threat to prosecute the witnesses, based on their testimony, and caused the witnesses to refuse to testify.

Also at issue were mug shots of the two defendants, introduced during the trial as evidence. The defense objected, claiming it would be highly prejudicial to the jury, because they would infer that the mug shots were taken at the Dukes County Jail during booking procedure related to previous crimes. Testimony about previous unrelated crimes is rarely allowed as evidence.

Judge Chin found misconduct in all three instances–failure to disclose an exculpatory witness statement, intimidation of defense witnesses, and prejudicing the jury.  Ruling from the bench, he said, “This was not a momentary misstep, but a persistent course of conduct designed to prejudice the defendant.”

Rather than dismissing the charges, however, he offered the defense the remedy of allowing in a different exculpatory witness statement, which they accepted, and which appears to have had an effect on the jury.  They took less than three hours to find both defendants not guilty on all charges.

Most often, prosecutorial misconduct, to the extent it is caught at all, arises in post-conviction proceedings.  Here, however, it seems a trial judge took his duty to police the state’s behavior seriously.  And given more exculpatory evidence than the prosecution wanted it to have, a jury acquitted.

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