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Criminal Prosecutors Get Their Day In Court

In March 1996, U.S. District court judge Sandra Brown Armstrong, in Oakland, California, dismissed "with prejudice,'' the criminal charges against four Dublin, California federal prisoners because of what she termed "serious misconduct" by prosecutors.

On February 5, 1996, judge Armstrong issued a 43 page order against two assistant U.S. Prosecuting Attorneys. Veteran prosecutor C. David Hall and Kimberly Briggs, along with the prosecuting team. However, Briggs was not implicated in the judge's order and was, in fact, interviewed as a witness by the Department of Justice's Office of Professional Responsibility, which is investigating Hall's performance in the case.

The order contained a chastisement for a host of prosecutorial violations and misconduct, regarding the four Dublin, CA federal prisoners who were accused, indicted and tried for an alleged plot to escape from prison. The government's case was filled with lavish fantasies and grandiose schemes of how the four prisoners were to obtain their freedom.

According to dismissed federal indictments, Kenneth Edward Elliot (a 43 year-old Oakland man and one of the four convicts accused of the 1994 attempted escape), Rafael Cornejo (drug co-defendant), Miguel Barrenchea, and 60 year-old Charles Hardin plotted to smuggle C-4 explosives into the jail and blow out a window, or else to use a weight lifting bench to smash the window. Once freed, according to government records, the four men were going to board a helicopter, then a ship headed to the Philippines. However, there was no escape.

The government in their zeal to achieve a conviction, took the word of Joseph Calabrese, (a former Las Vegas police officer, who was in the same prison awaiting trial in a $7 million fraud case) to support their case. In the process, the government disregarded the accused prisoners' constitutional and civil rights in hope of winning a conviction. Calabrese was promised a "significantly lowered" prison sentence if he agreed to gather information against the four men and testify against them.

In 1995, when the trial began, the government's case began to unravel and the truth began to seep forth, hurting the government's case. Records show that Calabrese was on the witness stand less than 10 minutes before he lied, saying he hadn't been promised a deal in exchange for his testimony. Also, Calabrese was coached by the prosecutors to lie. Not only did Calabrese lie on the stand, but the prosecutors violated the court's order by implying to the jury that one of the defendants had a previous criminal record, and the judge refused to allow them to present certain physical evidence. Although bound to correct the lie, prosecutors did not, according to Armstrong's ruling. Hall also reportedly violated co-defendant Rafael Cornejo's rights not to testify when he made the comment, "We'd be glad to have Mr. Cornejo testify." The comment was improper because it implies Cornejo was refusing to testify, something the defendant has a right to do.

Veteran prosecutor Hall admitted to becoming personally involved in the case, allowing his feelings to override his professionalism. However, still determined not to have the government look bad, the prosecutor asked the judge to "withdraw" her 43 page order dismissing not only the case but her charge of prosecutorial misconduct. Kenneth Edward Elliot, stated: "This is an example of the waste caused by arrogant and overzealous federal government servants."

A civil suit is pending against the government by the acquitted men for the government's actions. Also, a State Bar complaint was filed and it is being investigated.

Source: Oakland Tribune

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