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Court overturns conviction in 1997 killing of high school student

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9th Circuit overturns 17-year-old murder conviction in killing of high school student
A man convicted in the murder of a high school student 17 years ago wins the right to a new trial

A man convicted of murder 17 years ago in the gang-related slaying of a girl riding a bus home from school must either be retried or released, a federal appeals court ordered Friday.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling modified from one issued earlier, said the full 9th Circuit had declined to reconsider the case.

The court said that Los Angeles prosecutors violated the rights of Randall Amado by failing to disclose a report that showed a prosecution witness was on probation for a felony and belonged to a rival gang.

Amado was convicted with two others in the killing of Corie Williams, 17, a senior at Centennial High School in Compton, and attempting to kill her 18-year-old friend. The students were not the intended targets but were shot in a gang feud.

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 because he had been denied information that would have permitted him to attack the credibility of Warren Hardy, one of the prosecution's witnesses.

A federal magistrate recommended that Amado’s petition be granted, but it languished 8 1/2 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 K. Hellerstein, a senior New York district judge assigned to the 9th Circuit panel, the court said disclosure of Hardy's background could have changed the verdict.

A failure to disclose information favorable to the defense, even if inadvertent,  is a violation of due process, the court said. Judge William A. Fletcher, a Clinton appointee, 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.

Ninth Circuit Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson, also a Clinton appointee, dissented. She said the court should have deferred to an earlier state appeals’ court ruling against Amado.

“I respectfully decline to join a ruling that so clearly flouts Supreme Court precedent,” Rawlinson wrote.

Follow @mauradolan on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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