Northern California Record

Monday, July 15, 2019

California prosecutor suspended for ‘joke’ over child molestation confession

By Michelle de Leon | Dec 15, 2016

FRESNO -- A California prosecutor, who added a purported confession under a defendant’s name in a child molestation case, alleged his actions were meant to be a “joke” on a public defender. However, an appellate court did not find anything humorous with the situation.

The Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled that Deputy District Attorney Robert Murray of Kern County committed acts that were “outrageous,” egregious” and “conscience shocking.” The lawyer violated the constitutional rights of Efrain Velasco-Palacios, who was accused of child molestation. Upon the revelation of this act by the prosecutor, the court dropped all charges against the accused. Meanwhile, Murray was penalized with a one-year suspension of his license to practice law due to this alarming conduct.

Murray added two fabricated lines in the transcribed statement of the testimony of the defendant in a child molestation case. In the opinion published regarding the matter, it was discussed that the prosecutor Murray “clearly engaged in egregious misconduct that prejudiced defendant’s constitutional right to counsel, the trial court was correct in finding Murray’s actions were outrageous and conscience shocking in a constitutional sense.”

A Harrisburg district court will consider whether a City of Harrisburg buffer zone law violates free speech. | Photo by Evlakhov Valeriy, Shutterstock

The falsified confession is as follows:

“[Officer]: You’re so guilty you child molester.

“[Suspect]: I know. I’m just glad she’s not pregnant like her mother.”

The suspension of Murray is slated to take effect the moment the California Supreme Court approves the terms. This decision came after the State Bar Court Review Department increased the punishment, which was initially set by a hearing judge set to last for only 30 days. The latest ruling recommends Murray’s suspension period to one year.

“Murray’s behavior is wholly inappropriate and unbecoming of an experienced prosecutor, who is expected to adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct and to act as a gatekeeper to the fair administration of justice,” shared State Bar Court Judge Richard A. Honn, according to the Huffington Post.

In his explanation regarding the matter, Murray insisted the fabrication was made only as a joke and was not in any way done to influence the case. However, the court believed the prosecutor committed this act in an effort to affect the plea deal agreement that was set to occur at the time. That is, he deliberately inserted a fabricated confession to create a better environment for himself in negotiating a deal.

According to the appellate court, the year-long suspension is their way of ensuring that the public gets protection from this kind of practice as well as to maintain the integrity and confidence of the people to the legal profession. This message was echoed by acting deputy chief trial counsel and assistant chief trial counsel Melanie Lawrence.

“While our limited case law did not support disbarment on these facts, a one-year suspension should send a strong signal that prosecutors will be held accountable for committing acts of misconduct, especially when it leads to such serious consequences,” Lawrence said via the Central Valley Business Times.

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