Signs of prosecutorial misconduct in California exoneration case


James Ochoa spent 10 months in California prison for a carjacking he didn’t commit before he was exonerated in 2006 because DNA proved that another man committed the crime. New evidence revealed yesterday shows that prosecutors asked the Orange County Sheriff’s Department crime lab to falsify evidence that would help convict Ochoa.

An article in the Orange County Weekly details the alleged prosecutorial misconduct before Ochoa pled guilty in the case – in what he says was an effort to avoid a harsh sentence.

In the wake of a November 2005 OC Weekly article detailing how a 20-year-old Buena Park man faced prison for a robbery /carjacking he didn’t commit, prosecutors asked the Orange County Sheriff’s Department crime lab to alter key exculpatory evidence.

Veteran forensic specialist Danielle G. Wieland made the charge last month during a civil deposition related to the December 2005 wrongful conviction and imprisonment of James Ochoa, according to documents obtained by the Weekly.

In a civil deposition taken last month for Ochoa’s wrongful-prosecution lawsuit, Ochoa attorney Patricio A. Marquez of Morrison & Foerster asked Wieland, “Did anyone ever exert pressure on you to change your [DNA] conclusions?”

“Yes,” Wieland replied. “Camille Hill from the DA’s office . . . She called me and asked me to change the conclusion that Mr. Ochoa was eliminated from [DNA found on] the left cuff of the shirt.”

According to the transcript, Hill told Wieland she “didn’t care” about the crime lab’s findings. “I want him [Ochoa] not excluded,” Wieland recalls Hill saying.

The DA’s demand alarmed crime-lab officials, who began to question why prosecutors were so “adamant” and “ranting” (Wieland’s description) about nailing Ochoa.

“I was pretty shocked and annoyed,” Wieland testified. “As a forensic scientist, we just look at the evidence.”

Read the full story here

. (OC Weekly, 03/13/08)

Read more about Ochoa’s case here


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