10/03/04 — The system failed Alan Gell twice

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The system failed Alan Gell twice

That was a sad case involving Alan Gell.

The young man was convicted of “murder” in 1995. He was sentenced to die.

While his conviction was appealed, it was years before a new trial was granted. And even after that, he remained in jail another year and a half waiting for the second trial.

Lawyers representing Gell on appeal said they had found evidence showing he was in jail on far lesser charges when the murder occurred — and that the victim had been seen alive during the time Gell was incarcerated.

When the second trial was held, the jury promptly found Gell not guilty.

Unfortunately, it turns out, prosecutors were aware at the time of the first trial of the evidence strongly supporting Gell’s innocence but had not shared this with the defense — which they are required to do.

Instead, the prosecutors put Gell on trial for his life, convicted him and successfully argued that he get the death sentence.

When it was shown that the two prosecutors had failed to share the evidence supporting Gell’s innocence, they were called before the State Bar to give an accounting.

The two prosecutors, David Hoke and Debra Graves, told the State Bar that they had not intentionally kept the evidence from the defense lawyer. And they had a parade of important of lawyers, judges and others to vouch for their characters.

The State Bar concluded that the two had not, indeed, deliberately withheld the information from the defense lawyer during the first trial.

But their failure to share that evidence could not be ignored completely. The Bar issued a reprimand — the least form of punishment possible in such cases. That amounted to a tap on the wrist. It involved no suspension or removal of licenses.

Gell and his family were not pleased and voiced their criticism of “the system.”

After spending nine years of his life behind bars and facing the death penalty for a crime he didn’t commit, Alan Gell had every reason to be outraged.

Even if the failure to properly share important evidence with the defense was an “oversight” on the part of the prosecutors, the seriousness of that omission — and its consequences — warranted more than a slap on the wrist.

Published in Editorials on October 3, 2004 2:11 AM