The Colorado Independent lays out the facts in one of the worst examples of prosecutorial misconduct I’ve ever seen in a death penalty case.
- The withholding of exculpatory evidence continued through the new leadership in the DA’s office. The new DA kept the existing prosecutors on the case. In 2015, two years later, they revealed another file full of secret payments to eyewitnesses in the case.
- For seven years after Owens filed his appeal, the courts imposed a gag order keeping the appeal secret. According to the Independent, to this day some exhibits are still secret.
- The judge who oversaw the trial and appeals was apparently growing increasingly skeptical of the state’s case against Owens. That is, until he was abruptly fired by the state supreme court. The firing was apparently over a personnel matter, though the Independent article casts some doubt on that explanation.
- The new judge ruled on Owens’s appeal “without having seen or heard from a single witness about errors in the capital proceedings.”
Then there is the matter of the original DA, Chambers. She has since left office, but she left quite the record. Among her greatest hits:
- When the DNA profile for semen taken from a 8-year-old sexual assault victim didn’t match the man local authorities had arrested, Chambers offered a whopper of an explanation: “With the low-cut jeans that girls wear, she could have picked up anyone’s DNA off any surface her panties touched while they may have been riding up above her pants. I hate those low-cut pants,” Chambers said, according to the Denver Post. “Depending on how long she had been wearing those panties and where, they could have rubbed up against the back of her chair at school, a restaurant, the couch at home that someone else had been sitting on, a bus seat, someone’s toilet seat if she did not pull them down far enough — there are many ways to get unknown DNA on clothing. Another kid could have snapped the elastic on her underwear — kids do that sort of thing.”
- In 2011, the Denver Post reported that Chambers had been offering “conviction bonuses” to prosecutors on her staff who hit her quotas.
- The same year, Chambers was widely criticized for seeking felony arson charges against two young boys who started a house fire after playing with a lighter.
- In 2006, she was investigated for allegedly threatening a man who was trying to collect a debt from one of Chambers’s political allies with a grand jury investigation.
- In 2007, she was again investigated, this time for allegedly threatening a judge she felt ruled against her office one too many times.
- At one point during her tenure, Chambers was responsible for nearly half the “habitual offender” prosecutions in Colorado, a designation that means a decade or more in prison for crimes that otherwise might earn a year or two at most.
- Chambers’s office also faced allegations of hiding evidence in the death penalty trial of David Bueno. Those allegations were later upheld by a state appeals court.
- . . . and in a sexual assault case.
- After a jury acquitted an Ethiopian woman Chambers’s office had accused of human trafficking, the jury foreman told a local paper, ““In the DA’s office’s agenda to prosecute so overzealously, it seems that the facts of a case aren’t really an objective.”
You get the idea. Colorado is also the state where, incredibly, two judges were recalled by voters after the state supreme court reprimanded them for withholding exculpatory evidence during a murder trial they conducted as prosecutors.