December 02, 2004

A train wreck disguised as a murder trial

From the northernmost courtroom in Idaho, a vivid picture from the Kootenai Valley Press of the justice system, steaming and screeching, going off the rails: a recent Idaho Court of Appeals opinion, State v. Manley

"...raises a litany of procedural errors that plagued the trial from the outset, including the failure of the defense, state-appointed counsel Roger Williams, to provide written discovery until one week before the date the trial had been set and that then-prosecutor Mark Jones didn’t reveal one of his expert witnesses until four days before the trial was to begin."

"A statement testified to by arresting officer Pete Atkins that would have proven that Joseph knew of his brother’s death before deputies arrived was thrown out as the statement, “I didn’t kill my own brother,” allegedly made immediately after Joseph was confronted that night, appeared no where but in Atkin’s testimony; it wasn’t on the recording made the night of the arrest nor in the report Atkins subsequently wrote."

"Next, questions were raised over blood spatter evidence, which the defense contended hadn’t been disclosed prior to trial. “The objection was made and overruled,” the court wrote."

"The case didn’t turn truly odd until it was in its fourth day, when Williams attempted to enter five exhibits, most to refute testimony on the blood spatter evidence and none of which had been disclosed to the state."

"After Judge James Michaud, now retired, excluded three of those exhibits for lack of disclosure but ruled the remaining two might be introduced later if proper foundation was laid, there ensued an argument between Williams and Michaud that ended with the court declaring a mistrial."

"Williams contended that Michaud’s ruling was made not on legal grounds, but because the judge knew that Williams supported Michaud’s opponent in an upcoming election. After telling the judge he resented the way he was being treated, Williams grabbed his chest and told the judge, “God help me if I don’t have a heart attack over it.”"

Williams didn't have that heart attack, but he did retire shortly after the trial. I can't tell you how proud I am to have shared the profession with such a kook.

Update: for visitors from Crim Law, many lawyers and other Idahoans, and FedSoc itself, agreed with Ken about this judge, but you see, until the judge resigned just before the election, saying so could get an Idaho lawyer in trouble with the Bar. See In re Topp, 129 Idaho 414, 925 P.2d 1113 (1996), cert.denied, 117 S.Ct. 1334 (1997).