Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, January 31, 2014


Page 1


S.C. Rejects Spoliation Claim in Death Penalty Case




The California Supreme Court yesterday upheld the death sentence for a career criminal from Sacramento County, denying his claim that police deprived him of a fair trial by disposing of the car in which he allegedly murdered two men.


Death Row Inmate

The justices unanimously agreed that police had no improper motive for sending a hatchback stolen from a third party to a salvage yard, which Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar described as a standard process after a vehicle is subjected to a superglue process used to test for evidence.

Because the chemicals used in the process to test for fingerprint are toxic, the city bought the car from the owner and took title. It was apparently destroyed in late 1998, more than seven months after the murders of Roscoe Riley, 32, and Brandon Hagan, 21. Werdegar said the defendant not only failed to establish misconduct on the part of police, he could not show that preserving the car would have led to the discovery of exculpatory evidence.

The defense unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the case on spoliation grounds in 2000.

Court Testimony

According to testimony, Duff—who had eight prior convictions for crimes that included the false imprisonment of a teenage girl, two assaults, drug possession, and vehicle theft—was angry at Riley for not being paid for a gun, and also because Duff had not been compensated for acting as the middleman in a separate gun transaction.

The day of the slayings, the three men allegedly were in Riley’s car when Duff asked Riley to stop at a bar so he could use the restroom. When he returned he got into the rear seat, then shot both men in the back of the head, forensic experts opined.

The defense did not contest the claim that Duff shot the two men, arguing instead that he acted in self-defense after the victims fired at him. Prosecutors responded with expert testimony that no shots were fired from the front of the vehicle toward the back, and said Duff stole methamphetamine from the two men.

They also had a witness who testified that Duff admitted shooting two men and did not say he did it in self-defense, and that he had given her methamphetamine.

Judge’s Ruling

A Sacramento Superior Court jury found Duff guilty of first degree murder with multiple-murder and robbery special circumstances. Duff was sentenced to death by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Thomas Cecil on March 8, 2002.

Werdegar explained why the denial of the dismissal motion was not error:

“Duff did not demonstrate to the trial court, and does not establish here, that the car had any exculpatory value apparent to the police such that an obligation to preserve evidence would arise. Rather, he contends only that if it had been preserved, the car could have been subjected to additional tests beyond those conducted by the People’s expert, tests whose results might have supported Duff’s theory that he was shot at and acted in self-defense.”

The defense could not make the requisite showing of bad faith, the justice explained, because it could not be shown that the prosecution failed to notify defense counsel that the car was going to be destroyed—the prosecutor testified she didn’t remember and Duff’s then-lawyer was dead by the time of the hearing and there was no rebuttal to the police testimony that standard procedures were followed.

The case is People v. Duff, 14 S.O.S. 519.


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