Last month, the Innocence Blog covered a story on the investigation into the troubling practices of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Department, which, for decades, planted jailhouse informants to solicit information from in-custody defendants in violation of constitutional law. The investigation, ongoing, has now revealed that the office secretly stored information, sometimes exculpatory, about the defendants and the informants, but didn’t make the information known in court.
Orange County News
reports that in 1990, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department created a computerized records system called TRED to store information about defendants in its custody. TRED contained everything from trivial information about the defendants to informants’ notes on conversations with other suspects to recordings of police interviews. For 25 years, the office did not reveal that TRED existed and did not divulge to defense attorneys, judges or juries the information it contained, even when the data could have helped to prove peoples’ innocence.
One of the cases in which the office concealed information was that of Henry Rodriguez, according to the
Orange County News
. Rodriguez’s friend, Richard Tovar, had been convicted of a double murder, killing the mother of his unborn child in 1998. The prosecution said that Rodriguez had helped dump the victim’s body into the ocean. Rodriguez was convicted in 1999 of first- and second-degree murder based on a confession he gave to police.
But in 2003, panel of judges overturned the convictions, claiming that the detectives on the case coerced a confession before placing him under arrest or reading him his Miranda rights.
The Orange County News reports that at Rodriguez’s second trial, the prosecution presented the testimony of Michael James Garrity, an informant who said that Rodriguez had confessed to his involvement in the crime.
But Garrity’s testimony raised skepticism, especially among Rodriguez’s attorney, given that it wasn’t presented at the first trial.
At a 2005 hearing, Rodriguez’s attorney requested that the sheriff’s office release its records on Garrity’s informant work, but he was denied; counsel representing the sheriff’s office said that the records were confidential and couldn’t be disclosed. The recent investigation into the sheriff’s office now shows that the records were concealed because they contained notes from Garrity which indicate that he was questioning Rodriguez—a violation of the law because informants are forbidden from questioning someone charged with a crime who is represented by an attorney. The records also revealed that the police were even feeding him questions to ask. And Rodriguez was not the only defendant on which Garrity was reporting. He was providing the police with information on other inmates as well.
Ultimately, Rodriguez was convicted at the second trial and sentenced to 40 years to life, but the recent revelation of TRED and of Garrity’s notes could spur a third trial.