A retrial for a man charged in a brutal 2005 attack and robbery of an elderly D.C. street vendor has been delayed after a judge found that the U.S. Attorney’s Office waited until the eve of the trial to turn over evidence that could help the defense.
The defendant, James A. Dorsey, was previously found guilty in the attack on the then-84-year-old woman, who was known as “Grandma,” but that conviction was overturned. The assault was captured on a security video, which was given to the media and widely played as police searched for a suspect.
On Wednesday night, just before Dorsey’s retrial was set to begin in D.C. Superior Court, the new prosecutors on the case informed the defense about two people who came forward at the time of the assault with information about the attacker’s identity. The two said the attacker resembled a homeless man they knew, prosecutors said.
Judge Anita Josey-Herring ruled that the information should have been given to the defense before Dorsey’s initial trial. She ordered prosecutors to give her weekly reports on their status in locating and interviewing the witnesses. And she scheduled a follow-up hearing for Wednesday to investigate details of how and when the information was released.
“This information should have been turned over. The question is whether this was intentional or unintentional,” she said.
Dorsey, now 54, was serving 14 years in prison when the D.C. Court of Appeals last year overturned his conviction. The court found that Dorsey’s rights had been violated when he was handcuffed to a chair for 13 hours and detectives ignored his request to speak to an attorney. The court threw out Dorsey’s videotaped confession — which defense attorneys had argued was coerced.
Prosecutors must hand evidence to the defense, even if that evidence weakens their case. Failure or a delay to do so can be considered a violation of a 1963 rule based on the Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland .
In two hearings, the judge praised the new prosecutors, Ann Carroll and Clayton O’Connor, for disclosing the information, but she said the office should have informed the initial defense attorneys.
“I am troubled about the lack of information about how this information was overlooked,” Josey-Herring said. “The implications of all of this is not insignificant.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he could not comment on a pending case.
Dorsey’s public defenders, Eugene Ohm and Lula Hagos, called the prosecution’s failure “disturbing.” Ohm said information about identity of other possible suspects should be disclosed immediately.
What remains unclear is whether prosecutors actually gave the defense an opportunity to learn of the information. Carroll told Josey-Herring that on Feb. 10 she invited Dorsey’s attorneys to look through boxes that contained the information, but the defense chose not to. Carroll also said she believed the same invitation was made last summer.
Herring denied a request to release Dorsey from jail pending trial, citing his previous convictions and DNA evidence that prosecutors say links him to the attack.
One of the challenges prosecutors have had is that the victim, Vasiliki Fotopoulos , now 92, suffers from dementia. It is unclear if Fotopoulos — who was unable to identify her attacker — would be able to testify, they said.