Rhode Island Court Reverses Murder Conviction Based on Government’s Failure to Disclose Evidence Pointing to Innocence and Improper Questioning by Police
Court Sets August 4th Hearing to Determine Whether to set Bail for Raymond Tempest
Who Has Served 23 Years for the Crime
(Providence, RI; July 14, 2015) – Yesterday a Rhode Island judge reversed the murder conviction of Raymond Tempest, Jr. based on the failure of police and prosecutors to turn over multiple pieces of evidence pointing to the defendant’s innocence and improper interviewing tactics by the police that compromised the evidence.
Tempest was convicted of the murder of Doreen Picard on April 22, 1992. The crime, which occurred in the apartment building where the victim lived, occurred on February 19, 1982 and for a decade no one was charged. At his trial in March and April 1992, the prosecution offered no physical evidence connecting Tempest to the crime and there were no eyewitnesses claiming to have seen Tempest at the crime scene. The state’s case rested on four individuals who claimed that Tempest had confessed to them. The individuals were all vulnerable to police pressure, due to their backgrounds in drug trafficking, drug use or prostitution. Tempest was convicted and sentenced to 85 years.
“Raymond and his family are grateful that the court has overturned Raymond’s conviction,” said Michael Kendall, one of Mr. Tempest’s lawyers from McDermott, Will & Emery, LLP. “The police and prosecutor broke the rules to put closure to a horrific crime, by convicting an innocent man. We are grateful that the court found that the police and prosecution’s failure to turn over several pieces of evidence supporting Raymond’s innocence are profound Constitutional violations. The Court’s findings on the improper police handling of witnesses puts a spotlight on a critical issue.”
Tempest always maintained his innocence of the crime. Controversy about the investigation has followed the case for years. Tempest’s brother, Gordon Tempest, was a member of the Woonsocket Police Department, which investigated the case. There were deep divisions at the department during the investigation, splitting the department into two factions that did not trust each other. Tempest’s bother, Gordon Tempest, was in one faction, and one of the lead detectives in the case, Rodney Rembald, was in the other. For several years, Gordon Tempest was a member of a special squad that had been investigating Rembald’s possible involvement in criminal activities with his brother-in-law Stanley Irza, whom Gordon Tempest eventually arrested on state and federal charges relating to stolen vehicles and tax evasion. It was shortly after this arrest that Tempest began being investigated for the crime. It was revealed in a hearing earlier this year, that Irza was the informant who led the officers working on the case to suspect Tempest.
The New England Innocence Project began working on the case more than a decade ago and eventually brought in the Innocence Project and Betty Anne Waters to help in the case. Water’s was the inspiration for the movie Conviction, which was based on her extraordinary efforts to exonerate her brother Kenny Waters for a murder DNA eventually proved he didn’t commit. The legal team sought DNA testing of crime scene evidence, including two hairs that were recovered in the victim’s clinched hand. None of the items tested matched to Tempest. Ms. Waters found a critical document that had been in police files for 22 years and had never been produced to the defense. It provided conclusive corroboration of one of the Brady violations the Court found warranted reversal of the conviction.
“I’m so happy this day has finally arrived for Raymond,” said Waters. “There was never a shred of credible evidence connecting Mr. Tempest to the crime, and we’re confident he will ultimately be fully exonerated.”
In his decision today, the court overturned the conviction based on two independent bases. The court ruled that the defendant’s constitutional rights had been violated because the police and prosecution failed to disclose to the defense evidence pointing to his innocence. While the trial was taking place, a man and his son came forward to say they didn’t loan their car to a man whom hearsay witnesses claimed they heard he had driven the car with the defendant to and from the murder scene. This critical evidence was the only testimony placing the defendant near the scene of the crime, yet this important information was never given to the defense. The prosecution also failed to disclose that shortly after the trial began, a key witness, who claimed the defendant had confessed to her, significantly changed her version of what happened. The prosecution told the witness not to include the new details in her testimony and wrote in his file, “too late, don’t volunteer new info, will cause big problems.” The court also found that police practices “created an environment for questioning that was unnecessarily suggestive” that prejudiced Tempest right to a fair trial.
“Mr. Tempest never had a fair chance at trial,” said Olga Akselrod, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Given the new DNA and other evidence pointing to his innocence, if there is any justice, it should only be a matter of time before he is fully exonerated.”
The judge adjourned the case to August 4
for a hearing to determine whether to set bail that would allow the defendant to be released. At the hearing today, the state indicated that it intended to appeal the decision to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
Tempest is represented by Michael Kendall, Kate Dyson and Matthew Turnell of McDermott, Will & Emery; Lauren E. Jones of Jones Associates and Waters. The attorneys were assisted by Akselrod and attorneys at the New England Innocence Project.
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