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Tuesday, Nov 12 2013 10:00 PM

Prosecutor under investigation for allegedly falsifying transcript

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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 Kern County prosecutor is on administrative leave and the subject of a criminal investigation in connection with allegedly falsifying part of a transcript in a child molestation case.

The prosecutor, Robert Murray, said the situation is nothing more than a joke taken the wrong way by the deputy public defender assigned to the case. Murray said he's done nothing criminal and has nothing to hide.

District Attorney Lisa Green said Tuesday that Murray was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 4. Her office is conducting an investigation it expects to submit to the state Attorney General's office this week.

Kern County Public Defender Konrad Moore said Murray was handling a case in which a fabricated admission of guilt on the part of a defendant was placed into an interview transcript. The fabricated portion has the defendant, who Moore did not name, admitting guilt in a child molestation case.

Moore said the defendant speaks Spanish, and the fabricated admission was placed into an English translation of the defendant's interrogation. Deputy Public Defender Ernie Hinman, who's handling the case for Moore's office, noticed the discrepancy after having the tape of the interrogation translated and transcribed.

"We're obviously pursuing remedies and intend to file to dismiss for outrageous government misconduct," Moore said.

Murray said he didn't falsify the transcript. He said he sent an email of the translation to Hinman with two inaccurate lines, knowing Hinman would notice it, and asked in the email if Hinman disputed anything in the translation.

When Hinman called his attention to the inaccurate lines, Murray told him he'd been joking with him and sent a copy without the lines in question. Murray said it was banter between two attorneys that he thought was understood as a joke and would stay between them.

"That's what it was intended to be," Murray said. "(The transcript) was never going to go to court."

He said he has a reputation for being open and honest, and thought he had a good rapport with Hinman. He's surprised the situation has escalated.

"I would never try to manipulate evidence, or something along those lines," Murray said.

Murray has been with the District Attorney's office nine years, most recently in the special prosecutions unit. That section handles crimes including sexual assaults, child abuse and most murder cases.

Other prosecutors in that unit are handling Murray's caseload.

One of his upcoming cases is the trial of Martin William Juarez, charged with second-degree murder in a 2012 crash that killed a teen girl. Defense attorney Bill Slocumb, who is representing Juarez, was shocked to hear of the investigation of Murray.

"I know the man, and I'm very surprised, and I would hope that it turns out to be unfounded," Slocumb said.

On the other hand, Slocumb said, he congratulates the District Attorney's office for conducting an investigation in case there's any truth to the allegations. He said it's important the public have faith in the justice system.

"I've on occasion been concerned that some members of the prosecutor's office are more concerned with winning than they are with justice," Slocumb said. "I've never thought Robert Murray was in that class."

Murray was initially a prosecutor in the high-profile drunken driving case against Daniel Patrick Willsey, who prosecutors said caused a 2006 crash in the Kern River Canyon that killed Kern County sheriff's Deputy Joe Hudnall.

In 2008, it was revealed that blood evidence from Willsey was inappropriately handled in the Kern County Crime Lab, a division of the District Attorney's office. A few months later, it was disclosed that the vial of blood had been destroyed.

The crime lab had found that Willsey had a relatively low amount of methamphetamine in his system at the time of the crash, while a private lab in Visalia found he had a relatively high amount. Prosecutors used the private lab sample even though that put it at odds with its own lab.

A lab employee said Murray and a district attorney investigator lied when they reported they had told him to preserve the blood sample. Murray was removed from the case because he would have to testify about that issue at trial.

Willsey pleaded no contest in 2009 to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and received a 6-year prison sentence.

Murray was the recipient of the 2012 National President's Award for Criminal Justice, presented by Mothers Against Drunk Driving "for his devotion to prosecuting felony DUI and DUI homicide cases, while providing countless hours of support to victims and their families."

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