Ex-prosecutor admits withholding evidence before trial in ’84 killing
The man who led the prosecution of eight men convicted of murder in a woman’s 1984 beating death in the District admitted Thursday that he withheld evidence from attorneys for the men before their trial.
Over two days of testimony in D.C. Superior Court, former assistant U.S. attorney Jerry Goren denied telling witnesses what to say during 1985 testimony in the case of Catherine Fuller, 48, who was beaten, sodomized with a metal pole and found dead in a garage in her H Street NE neighborhood.
But he did say he kept some information from defense attorneys for the men, six of whom are still behind bars. His testimony came during hearings before D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg, who is considering whether to overturn the men’s convictions or grant them new trials.
Two people who testified in 1985 now say Goren and two detectives forced them to admit to being part of the attack on Fuller, offering them lighter sentences if they agreed to testify against their friends. Goren denied doing so.
“I never told them to change facts in their statements,” Goren said. He did, however, acknowledge telling witnesses when he didn’t believe them — and why.
“I would challenge my witnesses, but I was very clear, I did not want them making anything up,” Goren said.
Detectives thought members of a neighborhood gang killed Fuller. Goren said he was skeptical initially. But after interviewing more than 400 witnesses, Goren said, he came to think that the men charged in the case were responsible.
He also acknowledged several incidents in which he withheld information from defense attorneys, including the word of three witnesses who saw two men — who were not charged — in the alley where Fuller was attacked.
Some of those three witnesses identified the two men by name. Goren said he checked out those accounts but thought them incorrect, which is why he didn’t pass that information to the defense.
Defense attorneys now say that the information would have been vital to their defense, especially since one of the men allegedly seen in the alley had a record of assaulting women in the same neighborhood.
Goren also said he did not tell defense attorneys when one witness identified a different man as the killer. Goren said he did not find the woman’s account credible because she changed details of her story twice.
Defense attorneys say the information should have been shared.
Finally, Goren acknowledged that he did not disclose that one of his key witnesses had lied to authorities about a suspect’s whereabouts at the time of the killing before taking the stand in the 1985 trial. Defense attorneys might have used that information to challenge her credibility.
Failing to timely disclose information to defense attorneys violates legal rules and could result in a case being dismissed or retried. In these hearings, however, Weisberg must further determine whether Goren acted maliciously in withholding the information to protect his case.
Eight men, then ages 16 to 21, were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to between 35 years and life in prison: Kelvin Smith, Steven L. Webb, Levy Rouse, Clifton Yarborough, Timothy Catlett, Russell Overton and brothers Charles and Christopher Turner.
Christopher Turner was paroled in 2010. Webb died in prison. The rest remain incarcerated.
Goren, who said he resigned a year after the trial and has not practiced law in 27 years, is expected to continue testifying Monday.