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.
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
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."
"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
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