[b]DA has locked horns with defense lawyers in past[/b] 11/2/04 By DAWN HOBBS NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER Long before Michael Jackson’s defense lawyers accused Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon of misconduct, the prosecutor’s office came under fire from a lesser-known defendant who served four years in state prison before a judge ruled that he was wrongly convicted of murder. Efren Cruz’s lawyer, Philip Dunn, filed an $11 million civil rights lawsuit in 2001 alleging Mr. Sneddon, his deputy district attorneys and city police maliciously prosecuted his client. On Thursday, Mr. Jackson’s defense team will be in a Santa Maria courtroom requesting that a judge remove Mr. Sneddon from that case, claiming that malicious prosecution prevents their client from getting a fair trial in the child molestation case against him. Although the cases are vastly different, defense lawyers in each raise similar issues. They characterize Mr. Sneddon as an overzealous prosecutor and further allege he has a vindictive attitude that has resulted in false allegations against their clients. Mr. Cruz’s lawyer was scheduled to appear in federal court Monday in Los Angeles for a settlement conference about the lawsuit, but a judge decided Friday that the bitter standoff between the parties precluded any chance of settlement. Both cases are scheduled for trial in January. Although Mr. Sneddon would not comment for this story, he has contended in court in the Jackson case that he is doing the job he was elected to do — aggressively prosecute people suspected of committing crimes. He got some support from Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who opposed the Jackson defense request to remove Mr. Sneddon from the case, saying in a motion released Friday that Mr. Sneddon’s “zeal is much more likely attributed to the deep and abiding conviction of the District Attorney in the strong evidence supporting defendant’s guilt in this case.” Former Sheriff Jim Thomas, who has known the veteran prosecutor for more than 20 years, defended the way he does his job: “Tom Sneddon is and has always been an aggressive prosecutor, which is why he’s been re-elected so many times unopposed.” The defense tactic of alleging malicious prosecution is baseless, he said. “There’s an old saying that I learned from defense attorneys — and that’s if you can’t attack a case, you attack the prosecutor, and that is exactly what they are trying to do. They will find their allegations hold no water in law. … In fact, if he did not fervently believe the people he’s trying to prosecute were guilty, then there would be malfeasance. Prosecutors have to believe two things: first that the person they’re prosecuting for a crime is guilty, and second, that they can convict the person.” In both cases, the defense also asserts that Mr. Sneddon’s conduct caused him to exceed his boundaries as a prosecutor and to act as an investigator, a role usually reserved for police. [b]In the Cruz case, a District Attorney’s Office memo dated March 2001, and recently obtained by the News-Press, states Mr. Sneddon was “in charge of the operation” conducted by city police [color=red]after the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office concluded that Mr. Cruz, 26, was not the killer.[/color] Instead, the Ventura agency determined that Gerardo Reyes, 26, was likely the man who shot and killed Michael Torres, 23, in a downtown parking lot on Jan. 26, 1997, and in the same attack shot and injured James Miranda, 21. Mr. Reyes has not been charged with either shooting.[/b] In the Jackson case, Mr. Sneddon sent a memo to the Sheriff’s Department informing authorities that he had surveilled and photographed a private investigator’s office and administered a photo lineup to the accuser’s mother in preparation for an upcoming raid. By those actions, the veteran prosecutor exceeded his role, the Jackson defense charges. While it is rare that prosecutors take the stand, Mr. Sneddon testified in August under defense subpoena in the Jackson case as a witness and is scheduled to testify as a defendant in the Cruz case. Mr. Dunn said he wants to grill Mr. Sneddon about alleged prosecutorial misconduct against his client. [b][color=red]”Instead of accepting the conclusion of the Ventura District Attorney’s Office and the Oxnard Police Department, Tom Sneddon would rather personally investigate those agencies’ findings and investigate Detective (Dennis) McMasters, who heroically uncovered the truth in this case,” Mr. Dunn said. “Tom Sneddon personally investigated a fellow law enforcement officer and other law enforcement agencies because he did not agree with their findings, which were ultimately consistent with what Judge Ochoa found — that Efren Cruz was not the shooter in the City Lot 10 homicide.”[/b][/color] A gag order prevents Mr. Sneddon from commenting on the Jackson case. He declined comment on the Cruz case on the advice of the county attorney, citing the pending civil litigation. He has previously told the News-Press that he remains convinced his office convicted the right man in the Cruz case: “We believe the jury’s verdict was correct.” Mr. Reyes won’t be charged with being the shooter because “we don’t believe that to be true.” In the Jackson case, Mr. Sneddon drew a measure of support from the judge, as well as Mr. Lockyer. While the Jackson lawyers also asserted Mr. Sneddon “bullied” and “intimidated” witnesses during grand jury proceedings, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville noted in a recent ruling that though some of the district attorney’s actions were “regrettable,” they did not justify setting aside the indictment against Mr. Jackson. [b]However, enough evidence was generated for a judge to set aside Mr. Cruz’s murder conviction in October 2001. A month later, his lawyers filed an $11 million civil suit alleging malicious prosecution, especially after Ventura County authorities secretly tape-recorded the confession of Mr. Reyes, the man they later concluded was likely the real killer. That confession became the crucial piece of evidence that convinced Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa to set Mr. Cruz free. The judge ruled there was “clearly more than a preponderance of the substantial credible evidence to prove that Gerardo Reyes, not Efren Cruz, was the shooter in the City Lot 10 (murder) … It is clear that Mr. Cruz was incorrectly convicted of serious charges at jury trial in this case.”[/b] In a memo obtained by the News-Press and dated March 23, 2001 — three months before the habeas corpus proceedings to free Mr. Cruz began — Mr. Sneddon gave direction to city police on how they were to proceed during an interview with Mr. Reyes. A habeas corpus hearing allows a defendant to challenge the legality of a conviction. Prosecutors did not tell police what questions to ask, but the memo stated it was a “priority” not to advise Mr. Reyes of his rights and to polygraph him if possible. Judge Ochoa later ruled the police questioning of Mr. Reyes was “highly leading in nature.” In that memo, prosecutors instructed police on which documents, reports and records to obtain. Additionally, the prosecutors gave direction that police should speak with Mr. Reyes’ parents and have them “confirm or deny facts in the affidavits attached to the application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus.” They also wanted them to interview another relative to get “her reaction” to an investigator’s testimony. Typically, police investigate a crime, make an arrest and then turn that information over to prosecutors to decide whether to file charges. An exception, however, would be during an investigation in a habeas corpus proceeding, when prosecutors are allowed to provide general guidance to police. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, we never see the investigations until they come here,” said Assistant District Attorney Pat McKinley, adding that an investigation into allegations of wrongful conviction would be one of those rare times. “An unsolved murder is another good example,” the prosecutor said. “That would be something where police come in and say, ‘What do we do about this?’ Otherwise, we’re open to people suing us if we take off our prosecutor’s hat and put on an investigator’s hat because we lose our immunity.” Source: [url=http://news.newspress.com/topsports/110204sneddon.htm]http://news.newspress.com/topsports/110204sneddon.htm[/url]

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