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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Defense Lawyers Get DNA Lab Documents; Prosecutors Fighting to Keep Them Under Seal

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2011 at 4:10 PM

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Attorneys in the Public Defender's office have obtained a portion of a memo critical of the DNA section of the San Francisco Police Department crime lab, and say they plan to use the document as evidence in a high-profile murder case.

Deputy Public Defender Mark Jacobs said today that part of the memo, as well as a transcript of the memo's author describing its significance in a closed-door hearing with Superior Court Judge Charles Haines, was released under a protective order that prevents him from sharing it with reporters or the public.

At present, that protective order is scheduled to be lifted on Nov. 28, Jacobs said. Haines was going to make the documents public today, but prosecutors successfully argued for more time to draft a motion arguing why they should be kept under seal.

Jacobs said he is barred by the protective order from discussing the documents' contents, but confirmed that he plans to use them in the defense of James Mayfield, a Bayview church deacon charged with the 1976 murder of a young sculptor, Jenny Read. The case against Mayfield is based on DNA evidence collected at the crime scene.

"The judge ruled it was relevant, and I agree," Jacobs said.

Haines ruled in September that portions of the memo constituted exculpatory evidence that must be shared with defense attorneys. (Other parts of the memo, he decided, were not relevant to the Mayfield case.) The memo, written by Rockne Harmon, a former consultant to the DA's office, criticized the methods of Cherisse Boland, the supervisor of the crime lab's DNA unit.

Prosecutors have been fighting for almost a year to keep the memo from the public eye after SF Weekly first revealed its existence and then reported on efforts by police officials and prosecutors to withhold it from defense lawyers and state and national forensics auditors.

The DA's office appealed Haines' ruling to the state appeals court. Last month a panel of appellate judges unanimously rejected the appeal.

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