The Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA) has lodged a disciplinary complaint against District 18 District Attorney Farley Ward alleging he withheld information from defense attorneys in a 2009 first-degree murder case. The Bar has also filed a complaint against defense attorney Rex Starr, who defended Clinton R. Potts in the 2009 case.
Potts was convicted for the 2004 death of Gregory Clark and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ward worked as an assistant district attorney in Muskogee County during the trial. As a District Attorney, he currently prosecutes cases in Pittsburg and Haskell counties.
According to the McCalester News-Capital, the OBA complaint against Ward cites district court findings that eventually lead the appellate court to reverse Potts’ conviction. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had ordered the district court to hold a post-conviction evidentiary hearing after appellate judges determined Potts’ defense attorney had been ineffective.
Upon reconsidering evidence in the case, the district court found the prosecution had failed to inform the defense about promises made to a jailhouse informant who cooperated with prosecutors. The Oklahoma Attorney General then sided with Potts in asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to reverse the conviction. The appellate court tossed the verdict aside and sent the case back to district court for a new trial.
At retrial, 15th District Judge Mike Norman dismissed the case. The state appealed, but eventually moved to dismiss its own appeal.
DA Denies He Knew of Informant Deal
Ward acknowledged in the News-Capital report that information about the jailhouse informant’s favorable treatment by prosecutors should have been disclosed to the defense. By Ward’s account, he was only assigned at the last minute to prosecute Clark. Ward told the newspaper he did not know an application to revoke informant Peter Williams’ prior sentence had been set aside in exchange for his testimony against Clark.
Ward said he asked Williams if he had been promised a deal and Williams had not disclosed the agreement. Ward insisted in the news account that Williams testified honestly when he said said he had not been promised favorable treatment in return for his cooperation.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court in February, 2014, denied an OBA motion to join complaints against Ward and Starr. Both argued through their attorneys the complaints against them should be heard separately. The News-Capital said the Supreme Court could hear the case against Ward in March or April.
Prosecutors’ Obligation to Disclose Exculpatory Evidence
As the dismissal of charges against Potts demonstrates, prosecutors’ failure to disclose evidence to defense attorneys is a serious matter. Failure to disclose evidence can lead to new evidentiary hearings, a new trial or even dismissal of a conviction and sentence – including in this case a life sentence without possibility of parole.
Jurors who send somebody to prison for life and municipal judges who sentence someone to a few months probation alike need to know if witnesses against a defendant have been offered deals in exchange for their testimony. The ability to turn up the heat against potential witnesses is one of the strongest tools prosecutors routinely levy when they otherwise lack good evidence in a case. Jailhouse informants facing other criminal charges make ideal candidates for such deals.
Information about deals offered to witnesses are not the only evidence prosecutors might withhold. Police refusal to investigate allegations against other suspects, or police suspicions about other suspects can be strong evidence at trial. Prosecutors have every reason to withhold such information, but a much stronger obligation to disclose investigators’ doubts.
Likewise, results of forensic tests that do not support the prosecution must be disclosed. Prosecutors might be reluctant to disclose the names of experts who were ruled out as witnesses because they did not support prosecutors’ theories, but they are required to share that information.
Even when prosecutors disclose evidence, they might use clever tactics to downplay weaknesses in their case. Exculpatory evidence might be buried among mountains of documents, which in turn might be released as late as possible or only after repeated requests.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Defense Attorney
If you or someone you know has been convicted of a crime and prosecutors withheld information, you may have grounds to appeal a conviction. It is urgent that you retain an effective criminal defense attorney who has the determination to demand full disclosure and the skill to pore over disclosed evidence to find irregularities.
For a free consultation with a Tulsa criminal defense attorney, contact the Wirth Law Office today at (918) 879-1681. You may also contact our Tulsa defense attorney using the “Ask the Attorney” form at the top of this page.