Wednesday, August 6, 2003
Court Rules Withheld Evidence Requires Reversal in Child’s Death
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal yesterday reversed a murder conviction in the death of an 11-month-old girl, finding prosecutors withheld evidence that could have been used to impeach the medical examiner whose testimony established the time of the child’s death.
The court reversed the second-degree murder conviction of Jose A. Salazar, who was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for killing Adrianna Krygoski in 1996. Witnesses at his trial testified that the child was in good health when she was left in the care of her baby-sitteróthe mother of Salazar’s girlfriendóbut died after Salazar volunteered to watch her while the mother ran an errand.
Key testimony at the trial was provided by Deputy Coroner James Ribe, who performed an autopsy on Adrianna. Ribe said the child’s injuries were consistent with severe shaking, could not have resulted from an accidental bump, and would have led to death within at most a few hours.
The doctor’s testimony suggested the injuries must have been inflicted during the time Salazar was watching her.
But Justice J. Gary Hastings, writing for Div. Four, said Salazar’s due process rights were violated by the failure of prosecutors to turn over information about Ribe’s inconsistent testimony in other “shaken baby” cases, including one in which the conviction of Eve Wingfield was overturned after an investigation showed she was not likely present at the time injuries were inflicted on her boyfriend’s two-year-old son.
Wingfield, serving a 10-year sentence, was freed and the child’s father was later convicted in that case.
Hastings noted that Salazar’s trial lawyer, Van Nuys practitioner Frank DiSabatino, had requestedóbut not receivedóinformation about Ribe’s testimony in other cases three months before the trial. Instead, he learned about the Wingfield case from a newspaper article published on the day Ribe was to testify against Salazar.
The prosecution’s conduct violated the standards enunciated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83, Hastings declared. He pointed out that by 1998 the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office had assembled a “Ribe discovery box” of materials for defense attorneys in cases involving the pathologist’s testimony, and that by 1999 the box had grown to over 1,500 pages.
The materials involved numerous cases in which Ribe had changed his testimony or given testimony inconsistent which was contradicted by other evidence.
Salazar’s appellate lawyer sought a writ of habeas corpus in 1999 contending she still had incomplete discovery materials, and the appellate court ordered an evidentiary hearing before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael B. Harwin, who had presided at Salazar’s trial.
Harwin found there was “no evidence to show that the trial deputy in the instant case knew of any cases” other than Salazar’s involving Ribe, but said is was “clear that supervisory and administrative personnel were on ‘Ribe notice’ at the time of” the trial.
Hastings said that whether Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Turkat, who prosecuted Salazar, knew of the other cases was irrelevant, since her supervisor, Head Deputy Alan Yochelson, knew of them and the prosecutor’s office had formed a “Brady committee” which had assembled the relevant documentation.
The justice wrote:
“It is clear from our review of the testimony that there was a connection between the [prior] cases and this case, that Yochelson knew of the connection, that he failed to inform Turkat of the connection, and he failed to follow through with subsequent discovery requests. Furthermore, the connection should have been known by the Brady committee, and steps should have been taken to inform Turkat about the connection and the discovery box.”
Hastings rejected the contention that the failure to produce the material was harmless. He explained:
“Here, the People’s own investigation was shown to be faulty. Based on Dr. Ribe’s timeline conclusion, the investigating detectives immediately focused on petitioner as the perpetrator to the exclusion of any others who had access to Adriana that day, or before. Similarly, in the Wingfield case the focus turned to Eve Wingfield based on Dr. Ribe’s timeline testimony. It was only after Dr. Ribe changed his opinion that Eve Wingfield was released and the investigation was reopened focusing on the father of Lance Helms. Thus, impeachment of Dr. Ribe, and by extrapolation the impeachment of the investigating detectives, would have cast doubt on the entire manner in which the case was investigated.”
“We conclude that while there is sufficient evidence in the record to affirm the conviction, we cannot be confident in the jury’s verdict because of the Brady violation. Had the jury been aware of Dr. Ribe’s credibility problems, which would have cast doubt on the prosecution’s investigation, the case would have been cast in a different light with a reasonable probability of a different result.”
Justices Norman L. Epstein and Daniel A. Curry concurred.
District Attorney spokesperson Sandi Gibbons told the MetNews the violations discussed by the appellate court “would not have occurred” under the Brady policy established by District Attorney Steve Cooley when he took office in 2000. Salazar will probably be retried, she said.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company