LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – The attorneys for two Clearlake Oaks men on trial for a June 2011 shooting that killed a child and wounded five others filed mistrial motions on Monday.
Doug Rhoades, representing 22-year-old Paul William Braden, and Stephen Carter, who is the attorney for 24-year-old Orlando Joseph Lopez, filed the motions by the deadline visiting Yolo County Judge Doris Shockley set for them last week.
Anderson's motion is response is expected to be filed on Tuesday in preparation for a hearing at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Braden and Lopez are on trial for the shooting last June 18 that claimed the life of 4-year-old Skyler Rapp and left five of his family members and their friends wounded.
Testimony in the mens' trial – which began in late February – was called to a halt last Thursday after Rhoades raised objections to District Attorney Don Anderson's questioning of Sgt. Tim Celli of the Clearlake Police Department, as Lake County News has reported.
Anderson asked Celli about statements Lopez made to him during the investigation in which Lopez had allegedly incriminated Braden.
In response to a question about what Lopez said regarding his involvement, Celli said that Lopez told him he was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Kevin Stone – a previous codefendant who has since reached a plea agreement on lesser charges – with Braden seated behind him.
At that point Rhoades objected citing the 1965 court case People v. Aranda.
According to Rhoades' motion, such questioning in front of Braden's jury raises issues under case law established by People v. Aranda as well as another 1960s-era case, Bruton v. United States.
Rhoades’ motion explains, “Up to this point in the trial, not a single witness had placed Paul Braden at the scene or directly connected him with the shootings in any way.”
He said in subsequent discussions among counsel, “it was clear that the protections afforded by Aranda/Bruton had been violated.”
Aranda/Bruton establish that testimony of a defendant against his or her codefendant “produces a prejudice that cannot be cured with an admonition or instruction,” Rhoades wrote.
He said Celli's testimony was inadmissible under Aranda/Bruton, and further raises the issue of prosecutorial misconduct.
The complications from Aranda/Bruton were why two juries were impaneled, according to Rhoades, and agreements were reached between the prosecution and defense about the limits of evidence.
Rhoades' motion argues that Anderson, who took office as district attorney at the start of 2011, had not conducted a single prosecution in his career prior to the Braden and Lopez case, doing mostly family law, personal injury and some criminal defense.
“Yet for whatever reason, he decided to cut his prosecutorial teeth on a case involving two defendants charged with murder and multiple other counts, involving complex legal issues and not one, but two juries,” Rhoades explained.
According to Rhoades' take on the California Rules of Professional Conduct, Anderson is in violation of rules requiring “sufficient learning and skill” and suggests that such a violation “when observed by a judicial officer, must be reported to the State Bar.”
Rhoades said a curative instruction or admonition about the statement is futile. “Fourteen weeks of court proceedings, jurors’ lives, witness testimony and counsel time have been rendered useless by the carelessness of the prosecutor. Mistrial is the only available remedy as to defendant Paul Braden.”
In his motion, Carter also seeks a mistrial, with his arguments based on his client’s very different concerns, particularly, that joining the two mens’ trials was in error from the start and that it’s resulted in prejudice to both defendants.
“Two juries, and all the expense and time associated with two juries, have not solved the Aranda/Bruton problem,” he said.
Carter added, “A case with multiple defendants, numerous statements and defendants who are accusing each other of the crimes at issue is not an ideal joinder situation, not even when a county with limited departments and resources would like to combine the cases for cost-savings measures or other reasons relating to judicial economy.”
Further, Carter raised concerns about his client being forced to move forward as a single defendant in the middle of the trial. “There is a great ‘unknown’ as to what will be going through the minds of the people on the Lopez jury when Defendant Braden, his attorney and his jury are no longer in Court.”
A curative instruction to the jury won’t solve the problem, and he said it’s unknown what impact that a drastic change to the tactics and tone of the trial will have on his client’s jury.
Carter also takes aim at Anderson, suggesting the district attorney is guilty of misconduct for asking questions about statements that he knew “were not properly the subject of direct examination of this witness at this point in the jury trial and under no circumstances should such testimony have been elicited with both juries present in the courtroom.”
If Lopez’s case is to continue, Carter argued that the jury should be made aware that the prosecution erred and that Braden’s absence resulted from that error. As such, he’s seeking a finding of prosecutorial misconduct and a curative statement by the judge to the jury.
Email Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org .