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Friday, March 25, 2011

Maurice Caldwell, Man Wrongfully Convicted of 1990 Murder, to be Set Free

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2011 at 8:17 PM

click to enlarge Maurice Caldwell, almost a free man.
  • Maurice Caldwell, almost a free man.

A man whose 1991 murder conviction was overturned by a San Francisco judge in December will be set free after the district attorney dismissed the charges on Friday.

After 20 years in prison, Maurice Caldwell will likely walk out a free man next week.

Superior Court Judge Haines ordered a new trial for Caldwell in December, ruling Caldwell had been represented by ineffective defense attorney in the trial for the murder of Judy Acosta in the Alemany housing projects during a botched drug deal. That attorney, Craig Kenneth Martin, has since been disbarred for conduct in other cases, said Paige Kaneb, supervising attorney at the Northern California Innocence Project, who represented Caldwell in his case to get his conviction overturned. 

Since Caldwell's 1991 trial, another man had admitted to Acosta's

murder and the Innocence Project found several witnesses who said

Caldwell was nowhere

near the scene of the crime.

Also, Kaneb pointed to several

inconsistencies in the testimony of the sole witness -- Mary Cobbs -- who identified

Caldwell as the shooter.

Still, District Attorney George Gascón refiled the charges on Caldwell.

But

the prosecution's case had multiple problems: Cobbs died, leaving only

the transcript from the trial. Plus, the trial exhibits, such as the photos Cobbs was referring to in her testimony, were

destroyed by the court. Caldwell's defense attorney for the retrial,

Steve Olmo, argued in motions that it was a violation of Caldwell's due

process rights to proceed on the case given the missing evidence and the

inability to cross-examine Cobbs.

Judge Haines agreed, ruling Cobbs' testimony from two decades ago inadmissible.

Without Cobbs' testimony, prosecutors couldn't go forward with the case.

"When you have a case as old as this it's going to require some

investigative work to present it in court again," says Erica Derryck,

spokeswoman for the District Attorney's office. "Unfortunately we were

not able -- given the courts ruling, and destruction of the exhibits and

evidence -- to meet our burden [of proof] so we dismissed the case

today."

Caldwell was reserved upon hearing he was a free man, Kaneb says. "I

think this has been a lot for him to process. The victim's family was

there and they were upset, and he was respectful of that."

Still,

"He is thrilled that the judge is doing the right thing and he gets to

start his life," Kaneb said. "He can now live as a free man like he

should have all this time."

Caldwell could have been

free a few weeks ago. In an earlier hearing, the district attorney

offered Caldwell a deal: He could plead guilty to voluntary

manslaughter, attempted murder, and shooting into an occupied vehicle.

He could have gotten out of jail right away, since he'd already served

the sentence for those crimes, Kaneb said.

Caldwell refused. "He

turned it down right away," said Kaneb. "He made this great statement on

the record actually, that he's been fighting this case for 20 years,

and if he were 1 percent involved he would have taken this deal and

walk, but he was 100 percent innocent and wouldn't take the

deal."

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Lauren Smiley

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