James Joseph Olague, Ernesto Duran Arellano and Oscar Hurtado Cervantes were wrongly convicted in the shooting death of of Robert Stepper and Eric Folsom, and attempted murder of Vicki Folsom and Jessica Valdez on Halloween 2002.
All three defendants testified at trial and denied any involvement. The police pressured alleged accomplices to make false confessions consistent with the prosecution theory.
According to defense attorney Rod Beede, the jury deliberated for 30 days during the guilt phase of this trial. At one point, he said, they were split 8-4 for acquittal.
From the same article “Was Oscar Cervantes Wrongfully Convicted of Being the Shooter in 2002 Halloween Homicide?”
There was an individual named Rudy Gonzalez, who the defense believed was either involved or knew who was involved in the shooting. However, the judge denied them the ability to call Mr. Gonzalez to the stand to put forward an alternate theory of the crime.
“Much more substantially than that,” Mr. Beede continued, “when eyewitness identification was a big issue – but there was a lot of debate as to whether calling a memory expert, an eyewitness identification expert, was something that a court should permit.”
They filed a motion to do that, retaining one of the most prominent eyewitness experts in the country to come and testify that the identification was false. The judge denied the motion to put this expert on the stand.
Mr. Beede noted that “subsequent to that, the Supreme Court has held that failure to put an eyewitness identification expert on the stand is ineffective assistance of counsel.” But they didn’t get that opportunity because the judge denied the motion.
Christina Marie Marten was barely 18 years old at the time and made a statement incriminating these defendants. She went to trial before the three main defendants went to trial. “She was offered a plea bargain, accessory after the fact, which basically was a time-served sentence if she would testify at Oscar’s trial to which she testified to a grand jury. When it came time for her to do that, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.”
Because of that she went to trial separately and was convicted and is now doing a life sentence without parole for a story she recanted.
“The eyewitness identification in this case was completely fabricated,” he said. “The two girls that were the survivors of these shootings had been shown Oscar’s picture at least a half dozen times.”
“But the most outrageous thing that happened in the case, of all the outrageous things that happened in the case, was that Nate Easlon, purported to be an eyewitness to the shooting – he was arrested down in Solano County and they made a deal with him to testify.”
“Nate Easlon wrote a letter to my co-counsel and I, and said he not only fabricated the entire story but that his attorney and Jim Walker, who was trying the case with Jeff Reisig, had told him to fabricate. Had gone down to Solano County, met with him, told him that he was going to get a life sentence or worse if he didn’t come through.”