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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

St. Lucie Sound: Defense Counsel Claims Government Has Not Disclosed Exculpatory 911 Tape In Quadruple Homicide Case

Ricardo Sanchez and Daniel Troya have been charged with murder in connection with a quadruple homicide, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty against them.  According to Sanchez's attorney, however, the government, and not his client, is the one who has acted wrongfully, failing to grant him access to a tape of a 911 call that exonerates his client.  And assuming that the attorney's version of the facts is correct, I think that he raises an excellent point.

Jose Escobedo, his wife, Yessica, and two young children were shot to death in the predawn hours of October 13, 2006.  The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office's theory of the case is that Escobedo was the head of a large drug ring and that Sanchez and Troya "killed their leader."  Prosecutors have said they also believe the killings were drug-related

Sanchez's attorney, Donnie Murrell, contends that "[f]or 18 months the government has told us that fingerprints on a toll ticket stamped at 3:02 a.m. showed that (Sanchez) got off the turnpike at Okeechobee Boulevard after the murder."  According to Murrell, however, there is a fatal flaw in this theory, which is that the government has a tape of a 911 call that is an actual recording of the murders as they happened.  The 911 call was recorded at 3:10:59 on October 13, 2006.  The Okeechobee Boulevard turnpike exit is 50 miles from the scene of the murders.

Acording to Murrell, "This 911 tape is clearly exculpatory when considered in conjunction with other evidence developed by the government, most notably a turnpike toll ticket. The government has a toll ticket bearing the latent (finger)prints of defendant Sanchez. That ticket was collected at the Okeechobee turnpike exit at 3:02 a.m. on October 13, 2006. It is fifty miles from the scene of the crime to the Okeechobee turnpike exit. Clearly it is physically impossible for defendant Sanchez to have exited the turnpike at Okeechobee Boulevard at 3:02 a.m. and get to the scene of the homicide, 50 miles away, in less than eight minutes."

Murrell contends, however, that the government "has refused to allow the defense to hear, copy or otherwise inspect the 911 tape."  Murrell has argued that this non-disclosure is in error because the rules of evidence require prosecutors to share all their evidence with defense attorneys.

Murrell is correct.  I'm not sure whether Florida has a specific statute requiring such disclosure, but the Supreme Court clearly indicated in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), that prosecutors are required to disclose to defendants material exculpatory evidence in a timely fashion.  Clearly, if what Murrell is claiming is accurate, the 911 tape would be material exculpatory evidence which the government would need to give to defense counsel.

-CM

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