EvidenceProf Blog

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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cristina Gutierrez Was Involved in 4 1st Degree Murder Cases in 4 Different Jurisdictions in 1999/2000

Yesterday, I posted an entry about how Cristina Gutierrez was involved in three first-degree murder cases in three different jurisdictions at the same time in 1999/2000: (1) Adnan Syed/Maryland; (2) Zachary Witman/Pennsylvania; and (3) Hector Oscar Acosta-Martinez/Puerto Rico & Federal. I expressed surprise at Gutierrez's simultaneous involvement in these cases and wondered when, if ever, an attorney had been involved in three first-degree murder cases in three different jurisdictions at the same.

As a helpful reader pointed out, Gutierrez was actually involved in four first-degree murder cases in four different jurisdictions at the same time.

On July 2, 1992, Levi Pace was indicted for capital murder based upon the shooting death of Jerry Hargrove in December 1991. Pace was later convicted of murder and given the death penalty largely based upon the testimony of his alleged accomplice. In 1996, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama reversed his conviction, finding that discrimination existed in the selection of grand jury forepersons who were chosen by the judge who presided over grand jury selection on the advice of the district attorney's office.*

Pace was subsequently re-indicted for capital murder in 1998 and appointed counsel. Pace, however, wanted Cristina Gutierrez to be added to his team and replace his appointed counsel if necessary. According to the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama in Ex parte Pace, 761 So.2d 1006 (Ala.Crim.App. 2000), "this Court decides Mr. Pace should be forced to choose between Ms. Gutierrez and appointed counsel, Mr. Pace's clear preference would be to replace appointed counsel J. Timothy Kyle with Ms. Gutierrez....”

This opinion, issued on February 10, 2000, dealt with whether the court would allow Gutierrez, a Maryland attorney, to represent Pace in Alabama pro hac vice. The trial judge had refused to allow Gutierrez to represent Pace, concluding as follows:

I read some of the articles that were attached to her resume, particularly the one with regard to her prior theft conviction and her lying to the bar association. That was primarily reason number one. I know she was ultimately admitted. She was admitted and then it came up and she was brought up on charges I believe as I recall it, and it just didn't sit well with me. Frankly I didn't think she could bring to this case any help to Mr. Pace, and I just investigated what my duty and responsibility was in the case and found that it was discretionary. I looked for some basis that would, you know, what I was required to do to avoid an abuse of discretion and felt like that I was within the discretionary bounds in making the call that I made and I made it and I'm going to stand by it.

I'm assuming that the article referenced by the judge was this one, and it also formed the basis for the appellate court to affirm the trial judge's ruling:

The exhibits filed with the State's answer reflect that Gutierrez had previously failed to disclose on a law school application and an application for a law-clerk position that she had been convicted, under a different name, of shoplifting. After this information was disclosed to the Maryland Bar Association, the Bar Character Committee voted 4 to 3 to admit her to practice law. (This information was detailed in an article about Gutierrez that appeared in a Maryland newspaper. Gutierrez attached this article to her pro hac vice application.).

Pace later appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court of Alabama, which reversed and allowed Gutierrez to represent him. According to the court,

Ms. Gutierrez is a member in good standing with the Maryland State Bar, and she has been admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, before several federal trial and appellate courts, and in several state courts pro hac vice. Ms. Gutierrez has never been subject to disciplinary or disbarment proceedings, and she has agreed in writing to abide by the provisions of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct.

The Chief Justice dissented, concluding that

Evidence that Ms. Gutierrez had lied about a shoplifting conviction, on both an application to law school and an application for a clerkship, gave the trial judge ample reason to deny her application.

I don't know whether Gutierrez actually did represent Pace and/or how much work Gutierrez put into the case/her application from 1998-2000. The Supreme Court of Alabama's opinion was issued on August 4, 2000, and Gutierrez was soon thereafter hospitalized for three months in December, followed soon thereafter by her disbarment. 

Pace was eventually convicted of murder again and given life imprisonment. He filed a subsequent appeal, again primarily claiming jury bias and misconduct, but his conviction was eventually upheld


*During the appeal, it was uncovered that no African-American had ever served as a foreperson for a grand jury in Morgan County since its first grand jury proceeding in 1927.



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"I don't know whether Gutierrez actually did represent Pace and/or how much work Gutierrez put into the case/her application from 1998-2000."

Shouldn't the headline instead be "Cristina Gutierrez was convicted of shoplifting and lied on her law school application"? Given that, what does this have to do with Adnan's case? What should those following the Syed case take away from posts like these?

Posted by: Nine9fifty50 | Jul 30, 2015 7:19:46 AM

Nine9fifty50: The takeaway to me seems to be that Gutierrez was spreading herself pretty thin in 1999/2000, having to get up to speed on the murder/procedure/evidence rules in four different jurisdictions for four different first-degree murder cases with distinct issues. In Adnan’s case, she was dealing with the first case involving cell tower evidence in Maryland. In Witman’s case, she was arguing suppression motions and decertification issues. In Acosta-Martinez, she was handling the first case dealing with the intersection between the Federal Death Penalty Act and Puerto Rican law. And, in Pace, she was getting up to speed on Alabama’s rules of professional conduct and arguing why her prior misconduct shouldn’t bar her from appearing.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jul 30, 2015 7:27:29 AM

Maybe she was spreading herself thin, but maybe not. Have you ever asked other criminal defense attorneys that question? Perhaps having four murder cases is not unusual, especially for a purportedly successful attorney. Plus, Acosta-Martinez, Witman and Pace presented purely legal questions, which don't require time to investigate, and could be handled substantially by other attorneys in her office or clerks.

Posted by: Jerry Seinfeld | Jul 30, 2015 7:52:15 AM

Jerry: There's nothing especially odd about handling 4 murder cases at one time, and Gutierrez had many other cases that she was also handling at the same time. The odd thing is that the 4 cases were in 4 different jurisdictions. As you say, the other 3 cases (possibly) primarily involved legal issues, but those issues take a lot of time when you are not used to practicing in those jurisdictions.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jul 30, 2015 8:00:26 AM

As an update to your prior post, I believe CG's former client in Puerto Rico, Hector Oscar Acosta-Martinez, was ultimately acquitted of the charges in 2003.

Posted by: Nine9fifty50 | Jul 30, 2015 8:18:17 AM

Thanks Collin for your perspective and insight on the case and surrounfding issues. I've been following your blogs for months and really look forward to reading your thoughts. I am a little shocked by some of the negative comments lately and I hope that these don't weigh too heavily on you. Thanks for your hardwork!

Posted by: Dawn | Jul 30, 2015 12:58:34 PM

Just wanted to say Thank You for setting up the CLE. It will be nice to get some credit for all the time I'm spending reading about this case & criminal prosecutions!

Posted by: ccatx | Jul 30, 2015 6:00:07 PM

Very interesting. I wonder if ANY of the four accused would have wanted Gutierrez to represent them if they had known about the other 3 cases in separate jurisdictions going on contemporaneously and about her failing health...

Posted by: Elaine | Jul 31, 2015 5:28:32 AM

As I recall, after it was discovered that she had been convicted of shoplifting, the Bar penalized her by holding up her application for a period of time as punishment for not declaring.

Posted by: Louise | Jul 31, 2015 2:52:52 PM

This is so crazy to me. 4 different 1st degree murder cases in 4 different jurisdictions? Plus the other cases Susan Simpson mentions? Makes my heart ache.

Posted by: Naomi | Jul 31, 2015 8:50:53 PM

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