Maurice Caldwell, Man Wrongfully Convicted of 1990 Murder, to be Set Free
|Maurice Caldwell, almost a free man.|
After 20 years in prison, Maurice Caldwell will likely walk out a free man next week.
Superior Court Judge Haines ordered a new trial for Caldwell in December, ruling Caldwell had been represented by ineffective defense attorney in the trial for the murder of Judy Acosta in the Alemany housing projects during a botched drug deal. That attorney, Craig Kenneth Martin, has since been disbarred for conduct in other cases, said Paige Kaneb, supervising attorney at the Northern California Innocence Project, who represented Caldwell in his case to get his conviction overturned.
Since Caldwell's 1991 trial, another man had admitted to Acosta's murder and the Innocence Project found several witnesses who said Caldwell was nowhere near the scene of the crime.
Also, Kaneb pointed to several inconsistencies in the testimony of the sole witness -- Mary Cobbs -- who identified Caldwell as the shooter.
Still, District Attorney George Gascón refiled the charges on Caldwell.
But the prosecution's case had multiple problems: Cobbs died, leaving only the transcript from the trial. Plus, the trial exhibits, such as the photos Cobbs was referring to in her testimony, were destroyed by the court. Caldwell's defense attorney for the retrial, Steve Olmo, argued in motions that it was a violation of Caldwell's due process rights to proceed on the case given the missing evidence and the inability to cross-examine Cobbs.
Judge Haines agreed, ruling Cobbs' testimony from two decades ago inadmissible.
Without Cobbs' testimony, prosecutors couldn't go forward with the case.
"When you have a case as old as this it's going to require some investigative work to present it in court again," says Erica Derryck, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's office. "Unfortunately we were not able -- given the courts ruling, and destruction of the exhibits and evidence -- to meet our burden [of proof] so we dismissed the case today."
Caldwell was reserved upon hearing he was a free man, Kaneb says. "I think this has been a lot for him to process. The victim's family was there and they were upset, and he was respectful of that."
Still, "He is thrilled that the judge is doing the right thing and he gets to start his life," Kaneb said. "He can now live as a free man like he should have all this time."
Caldwell could have been free a few weeks ago. In an earlier hearing, the district attorney offered Caldwell a deal: He could plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, attempted murder, and shooting into an occupied vehicle. He could have gotten out of jail right away, since he'd already served the sentence for those crimes, Kaneb said.
Caldwell refused. "He turned it down right away," said Kaneb. "He made this great statement on the record actually, that he's been fighting this case for 20 years, and if he were 1 percent involved he would have taken this deal and walk, but he was 100 percent innocent and wouldn't take the deal."
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