Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Missing evidence leads to dropped charges in Houston drug killing

Key evidence was not provided by police officers against the two defendants

Prosecutors in midtrial Tuesday dropped capital murder charges against two men after it was discovered that investigating Houston police officers did not give prosecutors or defense lawyers evidence in the case, attorneys for the accused said.

State District Judge Mary Lou Keel ruled that taped statements by Joseph Louis Rodriguez, 21, of Houston, and Mario Gomez, 19, of Richmond, were inadmissible after a Houston police officer said defense lawyers hadn't been told about the videotapes.

Defense lawyers Bob Loper and Casey Keirnan had audio, not video, of what their clients told police.

Loper said prosecutors also were surprised to find out Tuesday about the discrepancy.

He blamed three Houston police officers who testified under oath Monday that no videotape had been made in the case. One of the officers found the video in a different file at HPD after he testified it did not exist.

"He came back and told prosecutors, 'Voila, look what I found!' " Loper said. "I think it's all on HPD."

Rodriguez and Gomez faced non-death capital murder charges, accused of killing two men in a drug deal on Sept. 18, 2009. Constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy prevents the men from ever being tried again in connection with that crime. Prosecutors cannot appeal Keel's ruling.

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos disagreed with the judge's decision.

"We do not believe that the statute or the case law required the court to exclude all of the defendants' statements," she said in a written statement. "The defense had an adequate opportunity to review the audiotapes and sufficient time to prepare their defense; thus, the purpose of the statute was satisfied."

HPD spokesman Victor Senties deferred to Lykos' statement, saying it was a matter between prosecutors and the individual investigators.

Rodriguez and Gomez were accused of shooting two gang members in an altercation over drug-dealing turf, their lawyers said.

Both remain in Harris County Jail on murder charges in a different slaying.

Keirnan said the video shows the men demonstrating how they were defending themselves. Because of the body language on the videotape, just hearing the audio does not adequately depict their self-defense claims, he said.

The law requires that all documentation of the statement has to be turned over, he added.

By BRIAN ROGERS,, Houston Chronicle

Source: Houston Chronicle


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