— A man convicted of a 1997 gang-related murder of a Los Angeles girl riding a bus home from school must either be retried or released, a federal appeals court ordered Friday.
A U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled 2 to 1 that Randall Amado, who was convicted of participating in a shooting that hit a crowded Los Angeles bus, did not get a fair trial because Los Angeles prosecutors failed to disclose evidence favorable to the defense.
Amado was one of three people convicted in the killing of Corie Williams, 17, a senior at Centennial High School. She was on a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus when a gang feud erupted into a shooting. One of her friends was also shot but survived.
Williams' killing occurred the same day that Ennis Cosby, son of entertainer Bill Cosby, was fatally shot in a robbery attempt in Los Angeles. Both killings attracted wide media attention, and Bill Cosby later called Williams' mother to express condolences. Police said the girl had an order form for her graduation gown in her back pocket when she died.
The 9th Circuit said Los Angeles prosecutors should have given the defense a report that showed a key prosecution witness, Warren Hardy, was on probation for a robbery and belonged to a rival gang. That report could have been used to impeach Hardy's credibility, the court said.
"The impeaching evidence was strong enough to cast a cloud of doubt over Hardy's testimony," the court said. "With that cloud of doubt, the remaining evidence against Amado was weak."
Prosecutors had accused Amado of aiding and abetting the shooting by running with Crips gang members to ambush and surround the bus and by carrying a gun to the scene. Amado was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.
In 2003, Amado asked a federal court in Los Angeles to overturn his conviction on the grounds that prosecutors had failed to turn over impeachment evidence.
A federal magistrate recommended that Amado's petition be granted, but it languished 81/2 years before U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson ruled on it. Anderson denied Amado a new trial, and Amado appealed.
In a ruling written by Judge Alvin Hellerstein, a senior New York district judge assigned to the 9th Circuit panel, the court said disclosure of the witness' background might have changed the verdict.
A failure to provide information favorable to the defense, even if inadvertent, is a violation of due process, the court said. Judge William A. Fletcher, appointed by President Clinton, joined in the ruling.
"Especially in a period of strained public budgets, a prosecutor should not be excused from producing that which the law requires him to produce, by pointing to that which conceivably could have been discovered had defense counsel expended the time and money to enlarge his investigations," wrote Hellerstein, a Clinton appointee.
The panel first ruled for Amado last fall, but issued a revised decision and order on Friday. The panel said the full 9th Circuit had declined to review the fall ruling, but the state could ask for reconsideration of Friday's decision. The panel's revised legal analysis in Friday's ruling would make it less likely that the
Ninth Circuit Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson, another Clinton appointee, dissented. She said that Hardy "was far from being a stellar witness for the prosecution," and that the 9th Circuit should have deferred to a state court's ruling in the case.
A California appeals court had upheld Amado's conviction, ruling that the defense had failed to establish that the probation report was new evidence and that it was unobtainable during the trial.
"It was not objectively unreasonable for the state court to find a lack of prejudice to Amado, i.e., that
the undisclosed evidence would not have affected the jury's verdict," Rawlinson wrote.
John Lanahan, Amado's lawyer, said Los Angeles prosecutors would find it difficult to get a conviction if they attempted to retry Amado. Hardy, the prosecution witness, is now on death row, and "was the only one" who placed Amado at the scene with a gun, Lanahan said. The attorney said it was possible that prosecutors might offer Amado a plea deal for time served.
"This has been a long time coming, and I just hope there are no further detours," Lanahan said.
A spokesman for Atty. Gen.