Judge Michael Murray of Orange County Superior Court was absolved on Tuesday, December 6, by the state’s judicial watchdog of any wrongdoing while serving as a homicide prosecutor.
The California Commission on Judicial Performance dismissed allegations that Murray neglected to look into fabricated police reports that were used to convict a former Long Beach resident in the collision that killed Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy David Piquette on the suggestion of a special panel.
The commission also dismissed as unfounded the claim that Murray withheld the changed reports from Cole Wilkins’ defense counsel.
Tuesday, Edith Matthai, Murray’s attorney, was not immediately available for comment. Sara Ross, Wilkins’ public defender, expressed disappointment with the commission’s choice.
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According to Ross, “This opinion destroys our faith that judges will be held accountable for unethical behavior.” Too many judges will go out of their way to defend other judges, even in cases with overwhelming evidence like this one.
In the murder trial of Wilkins, who was operating the vehicle from which a stolen stove fell onto the 91 Freeway in Anaheim in July 2006, commission attorneys claimed on January 5 that Murray broke disclosure requirements and ignored fabricated reports. Wilkins was charged with murder.
After driving into a cement truck to escape the stove, Deputy Piquette, 34, lost his life. Wilkins was given a manslaughter conviction and a four-year prison term after being found guilty of murder and receiving a sentence of 26 years to life in prison. Wilkins was finally released after serving his 13-year sentence.
A lawsuit has been brought by Wilkins against the California Highway Patrol.
The commission accused Murray, who was at the time an assistant district attorney for Orange County, of failing to look into claims that CHP records were altered to support the prosecution’s case and the originals were destroyed. The doctored reports were not disclosed to the defense as required by federal law.
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