STORY: " Maui: An Innocent Man? Convicted Killer Says Maui Officials Destroyed or Lost Crucial Evidence," reported by Nick Grube, published by "Civil Beat" on July 28, 2015. Nick Grube is a reporter for Civil Beat. (Thanks to the Wrongful Convictions Blog for drawing this story to our attention. HL);
SUB-HEADING: "He’s spent nearly two decades in prison but Taryn Christian says he can prove that the investigation and prosecution into his 1995 murder case were rife with fraud. He’s hoping the evidence — or lack of it — will set him free."
GIST:"A convicted killer who says he’s innocent is hinging his latest shot at redemption on the assertion that Maui police and prosecutors knowingly withheld or destroyed evidence that would have implicated another man. Taryn Christian is currently serving a life sentence with a minimum 40-year term for the July 14, 1995 stabbing death of Vilmar Cabaccang. Even before he was convicted in 1997, Christian said police arrested the wrong guy. He’s now offered reams of evidence that he believes will prove his innocence, including a key eyewitness who has since recanted his initial identification of Christian as the murderer and a 911 tape in which Cabaccang identifies the real culprit with his dying breaths. But much of the crucial evidence, including a pair of bloody shorts that Christian wanted for DNA testing, has gone missing under suspicious circumstances..........Christian’s only hope now is to prove that the 9th Circuit’s decision was based on fraud perpetrated by Maui police and prosecutors, which even Ezra has said is an extraordinarily high threshold to meet. During a March hearing, Ezra told Christian’s attorney, Gary Modafferi, that he would need to present concrete evidence to prove that officials had intentionally tried to hide or dispose of evidence. Coincidence and inference just won’t cut it......... The Hawaii Innocence Project is now working with Modafferi on the case. The last-ditch effort relies on a federal rule that says Christian can have previous decisions voided if he can prove that the judges were duped by relying on false information. Kenneth Lawson teaches criminal law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is the co-director of the Innocence Project, which has a mission to overturn wrongful convictions for those who have been imprisoned for serious crimes. Lawson said he’s reviewed Christian’s case and says there are enough irregularities to mount a successful campaign under the fraud rule. What makes it so compelling, he said, is that much of the evidence that would implicate another killer has vanished. “For all intents and purposes this could very well be his last avenue of getting his freedom,” Lawson said. “If the judgment was entered and there was a fraud perpetrated on the court you can attack that judgment and get it set aside.”......... Recently filed court records suggest that much of the current case hinges on the testimony of Phillip Schmidt, the eyewitness who testified that he saw Christian walking away from the murder scene. Schmidt now says he originally identified Burkhart in a photo lineup that he then signed with his initials. But the photo lineup as well as any police reports discussing Schmidt’s identification have gone missing. Modafferi described the erasure as a “forgery” that was an attempt to hide the fact that the prosecutors had possession of the shorts in violation of protocol. The destruction of the shorts, he said, was just one part of a “stunning mosaic of fraud and mishandled evidence.”........But one of the most concerning pieces of evidence to go missing is Serena Seidel’s bloodied shorts that Christian wanted to test for Burkhart’s DNA. The evidence log from the box containing Serena Seidel’s bloodied shorts appears to have been altered. Maui officials say the shorts were destroyed along with chain of custody reports. The shorts disappeared after a judge ordered them to be produced for testing. Maui officials eventually said that they had been destroyed along with the chain of custody reports that would give an indication of who had them last. An evidence log from the box containing the shorts appears to have been altered. According to a handwriting expert, the words “Returned to pros” had been erased from the log. While prosecutors argued that this might have been an innocent mistake, Christian’s attorney, Gary Modafferi, argued otherwise. He said in recent court filings that it would be inappropriate for prosecutors to retain evidence for an ongoing case in their office, and that it would normally be left in the possession of the court clerks. Modafferi described the erasure as a “forgery” that was an attempt to hide the fact that the prosecutors had possession of the shorts in violation of protocol. The destruction of the shorts, he said, was just one part of a “stunning mosaic of fraud and mishandled evidence.” U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra is scheduled to hear final oral arguments in the case Dec. 1."
The entire story can be found at:
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