Last year, we wrote about Deputy District Attorney Robert Murray of Kern County, who inserted two very incriminating lines into a defendant’s statement regarding the allegations of child molestation that were pending against him.
A subsequent bar complaint against Murray is being held in abeyance according to the California State Bar website, which reports on the status of the complaint here. (Reasons are unstated.) Meanwhile, Murray is still employed at the Kern County District Attorney’s office.
The story of Murray’s misconduct has been reinvigorated in recent days by commentators at the Observer and USA Today who note that California Attorney General Kamala Harris chose to appeal the trial judge’s decision to drop the criminal charges against the defendant following revelations of Murray’s misconduct. Incredibly, Harris’s office argued that Murray’s actions weren’t outrageous enough to require dismissal of the indictment.
The Court of Appeal sided with the state court judge and threw out Harris’s appeal, finding that Murray “clearly engaged in egregious misconduct that prejudiced the defendant’s constitutional right to counsel”. Contrary to Murray’s defense that the incident was a joke between colleagues, the court found:
…[T]hat Murray deliberately altered an interrogation transcript to include a confession that could be used to justify charges that carry a life sentence, and distributed it to defense counsel at a time when Murray knew defense counsel was trying to persuade Palacios [the defendant] to settle the case.
The Palacios case isn’t the only one in which Murray has been accused of prosecutorial misconduct. According to The Bakersfield Californian, in 2008, a Kern County Crime Lab technician destroyed a blood sample in a drunken driving case. The technician said Murray and a district attorney investigator lied when they said that they had told him to preserve the blood sample. Furthermore, the article explains, prosecutors from the DA’s office chose not to present results from the blood sample because it hurt their case:
The crime lab had found that Willsey had a relatively low amount of methamphetamine in his system at the time of the crash, while a private lab in Visalia found he had a relatively high amount. Prosecutors used the private lab sample even though that put it at odds with its own lab.
It may come as no surprise, then, that problems in the Kern County District Attorney’s office appear to go much deeper than Robert Murray. A search of the National Registry of Exonerations reveals a damning statistic: 22 of 24 exonerations out of Kern County have involved official misconduct on the part of police, prosecutors or other government officials.