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Monday, Aug 11 2014 09:50 PM

Disciplinary charges filed against Kern County prosecutor who altered 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

The State Bar of California has filed disciplinary charges against a veteran Kern County prosecutor whose modification of a transcript led to the dismissal of charges against an alleged sexual abuser.

The charges accuse Deputy District Attorney Robert Murray of falsification of evidence and violating the law, calling the change he made in the transcript "an act of moral turpitude, dishonesty or corruption ... "

Murray could be disbarred if the bar finds his conduct poses a substantial threat to the interests of clients or the public, the bar's June 16 filing says. He is currently working as a prosecutor in the District Attorney's office's juvenile division.

Murray was the prosecutor in the case of Efrain Velasco-Palacios, charged in June 2013 with five counts of lewd or lascivious behavior with a child younger than 14 years old. Murray placed a fabricated admission of guilt into an English translation of Velasco-Palacios' Spanish-language interrogation.

Specifically, he wrote the following into the transcript:

"[Officer]: You're so guilty you child molester.

"[Suspect]: I know. I'm just glad she's not pregnant like her mother."

Murray has said he sent an email of the translation with the two inaccurate lines to Deputy Public Defender Ernest Hinman, Velasco-Palacios' attorney, knowing that Hinman would notice the changes. When Hinman called his attention to the inaccurate lines, Murray told him it was just a joke and sent a copy without the lines in question.

Murray has said he thought Hinman would understand the change as a joke and it would stay between the two of them. The change was brought to the court's attention and, following a hearing, Judge H.A. "Skip" Staley dismissed the charges against Velasco-Palacios on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.

The bar's filing says "(Murray) knew that the defendant had not made those statements at the time he sent them to the defendant's attorney," and that he violated Velasco-Palacios' due process rights and right to counsel.

Murray's attorney, Jonathan Arons, filed a response July 10 in which Murray admitted the translation contained "extraneous comments" not made by the defendant, but denied that Velasco-Palacios' rights were violated.

Arons could not be reached for comment Monday, nor could state bar Senior Trial Counsel Kimberly G Anderson.

District Attorney Lisa Green said she can't comment on the charges as she will be a witness in the case. Green has previously said she believes Murray's transcript change was a joke that had "gone awry."

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."

A settlement conference in the state bar case is scheduled for Aug. 26.

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