PHILADELPHIA--In an unusual twist revealed in court yesterday, it was disclosed that police detectives had created a fake statement to get a witness in a homicide case to talk.
The case - involving a made-up statement and the tricking of a witness - is one of a kind, attorneys said yesterday.
The judge in the case found the unusual practice "somewhat troubling" but said that it's legal for police to use ruse or trickery to get suspects to admit to a crime - and experts agreed.
"To say they can do this with witnesses," defense attorney Daniel Rendine argued in court.
"I can't believe it!"
Yesterday, Rendine sought to have charges against his client, Gary Moses, dismissed because of the false statement.
Moses, 19, of East Germantown, and Jeffrey Workman, 21, of Southwest Center City, are accused of murder in the Aug. 18, 2006, shooting death of Lawson Hunt, 26, in Hunting Park.
Jury selection in the two men's trial is slated to begin today.
According to information provided in court and in a motion filed by Rendine, police detectives created a dummy statement, dated Oct. 18, 2006, which they pretended was given by Moses.
They used the statement to interrogate a witness to the shooting, Joshua Medina.
In the false statement, Moses "named" Medina as the shooter. Confronted with the statement, Medina allegedly told police in a statement that Moses shot Hunt.
Detectives used the dummy statement "as a tool to encourage Joshua Medina to tell who he saw, if anyone, shoot Lawson Hunt," Assistant District Attorney John Doyle said after the hearing.
Doyle said he doesn't plan to use Medina's statement at trial, but has other evidence that points to Moses as one of the two shooters.
Based on Medina's statement, police arrested Moses on murder, weapons and related charges.
Rendine argued in the pre-trial motion hearing that police manufactured probable cause to arrest his client. He contended that police coerced Medina's statement.
He asked Common Pleas Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper "to find the police conduct so egregious" that it violated his client's due-process rights, and to dismiss the charges against Moses.
Doyle argued there was "no evidence at all" Medina gave anything but a truthful statement.
The judge said while issuing her ruling that it is legal for police to use ruse and trickery. But she said she found the interrogation in this case "somewhat troubling." She said, like the defense, that she has not found this tactic previously used on a witness.
But, in denying the motion, she said the defendants were not denied their due-process rights.
The prosecution, as soon as it found out about the dummy statement, had disclosed it to defense attorneys in a May 20 letter.
Jay Gottlieb, Workman's attorney, who joined Rendine's motion, said afterward that this was the "first time I ever saw that happen," referring to the fake statement and its use on a witness.
JoAnne A. Epps, associate dean at Temple University's Beasley School of Law, who will become dean in July, said yesterday that "it's definitely legal" for police to use ruse or trickery when interviewing a suspect or a witness.
That's not to say there are no limits, she said. With regard to suspects in custody, the use of trickery "is permitted subject to Miranda" warnings, she said.
A leading scholar in trial advocacy and criminal procedure, Epps said this was the first time she has heard of a case in which a false statement was created by police and in which police used a ruse to interrogate a witness.
Epps said this case is in essence not much different from a situation in which police verbally tell a suspect or witness a falsity to get the person to admit something.
"In some regards, the form doesn't change the legal essence, which is you are allowed to misrepresent the facts as long as you don't as a result engage in conduct that would be considered unlawful compulsion," she said.