Local News

Thursday, Dec 19 2013 11:14 AM

Child molestation charges dismissed because of alleged prosecutorial misconduct

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Prosecutor Robert Murray in July 2013.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

A transcript change in a Kern County child molestation case led the judge Thursday to dismiss charges against the defendant on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.

Efrain Velasco-Palacios had been charged with five counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years. But Judge H.A. Staley dismissed all counts because of the actions of Deputy District Attorney Robert Murray, who placed a fabricated admission of guilt into an English translation of Velasco-Palacios' Spanish-language interrogation.

District Attorney Lisa Green said she does not dispute that a transcript change was made, but she did disagree with Staley's decision. She intends to appeal the decision to the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

"I'm extremely disappointed in the judge's ruling," she said.

Green expressed concern that Velasco-Palacios won't face punishment. Her office was contacting the alleged victim and her mother to explain the judge's decision. She said the victim is a family member of Velasco-Palacios.

"They are serious crimes," Green said of the charges against Velasco-Palacios.

The defendant remains in custoday and is scheduled to have a pretrial conference Jan. 28 on unrelated, lesser charges.

At daylong hearing held Tuesday, Murray, Deputy Public Defender Ernie Hinman and the defendant testified. The judge issued his ruling Thursday morning, and Green said she plans to file a notice of appeal by Friday.

Green said she believes Murray's transcript change was a joke that had "gone awry." She said she has examined records of other cases in the state in which judges have dismissed charges because of prosecutorial misconduct, and this case does not rise to that level.

Chief Deputy Public Defender Peter Kang said he believes Murray's actions left Staley with little choice but to dismiss the charges. He said he found Murray's actions "bizarre, shocking and disturbing."

Kang said that based on the evidence, he didn't think the transcript change was a joke. He said Murray waited nine days to inform the Public Defender's office of what he'd done, and only came forward when Hinman pointed out the change.

"If it was a joke, then I don't understand the punch line," Kang said.

The fabricated admission of guilt was made in a transcript Murray emailed to Hinman.

Hinman discovered the discrepancy after having the tape of the interrogation translated and transcribed again.

Murray has said the change was a joke that Hinman took the wrong way, and has denied manipulating evidence. He has been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 4.

Murray could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Kang said that if Velasco-Palacios had been convicted of all five counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years old, he faced 16 years in prison.

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