Kern County, California, is apparently no place to seek justice. The Kern County Sheriff’s Department is infamous for its handling of residents — both inside and outside the jail it controls. During a four-month stretch in 2013, the Sheriff’s Department was involved with three in-custody deaths. In two of the three cases, deputies applied a ton of force to arrestees, resulting in de facto death penalties for the crimes they allegedly committed.
The Kern County DA’s office is seemingly no better, although its members aren’t as likely to take such a hands-on approach. Instead, they’d be more apt to falsify confession transcriptions, like assistant DA Robert Murray did.
Kern County prosecutor Robert Murray added two lines of transcript to “evidence” that the defendant confessed to an even more egregious offense than that with which he had been charged—the already hideous offense of molesting a child. With the two sentences that state’s attorney Murray perjuriously added, Murray was able to threaten charges that carried a term of life in prison.
Here’s what Murray added to the transcript:
(Detective): “You’re so guilty you child molester.”
(Defendant): “I know. I’m just glad she’s not pregnant like her mother.”
Murray added this to the English translation of the confession transcription, but not to the Spanish version — the language used for the entire interrogation. He then handed this off to the defense, just as it was advising the defendant to consider a plea deal. It wasn’t until the defense requested the original recordings that Murray finally admitted adding statements the defendant never made — nine days after he turned his edited version over to the defendant.
Here’s Murray’s defense of his actions:
It was only after defense attorney Ernest Hinman confronted Murray about the altered version. Murray said he meant it only as a joke to be kept between the two men [Hinman and Murray].
Haha. Life and liberty are hilarious. It’s only someone’s life in the balance. No better place to deploy a little prosecutorial wit than in the transcript of a police interrogation.
The court wasn’t amused.
The trial judge saw no laughing matter—and neither should the rest of us. He dismissed the indictment completely, and in a scathing opinion, also quoted by the appellate court, wrote that the prosecutor’s actions “diluted the protections accompanying the right to counsel and ran the risk of fraudulently inducing defendant to enter a plea and forfeit his right to a jury trial.” The court refused to “tolerate such outrageous conduct that results in the deprivation of basic fundamental constitutional rights that are designed to provide basic fairness.”
Not only did Murray tank the prosecution side, but he also managed to scuttle the defendant’s legal representation as well. During his asinine defense of the altered transcript, he offhandedly mentioned that the defense counsel had told him the defendant “had no viable defense.” The prosecution team was hit hard, but so was the defendant, who suddenly found he couldn’t even trust his own representation.
Despite its own prosecutor admitting he had falsified evidence, the DA’s office appealed the court’s decision, arguing that only “abject physical brutality” should result in dismissal of charges. It found no comfort at the higher court.
Indeed, there is simply no support for the People’s contention that an act must involve some form of physical brutality in order to support a sanction of dismissal. Meanwhile, there is ample support for defendant’s contention that egregious violations of a defendant’s constitutional rights are sufficient to establish outrageous government misconduct.
Murray is now facing disciplinary action from the state bar, including the possibility of being disbarred completely. He’ll get to wait out this decision in comfort, as the DA’s office has made no proactive move to punish someone who admitted in court that he falsified evidence.