Art of the deal
Career criminal Bruce Samuelson promised San Joaquin County prosecutor Bernard Garber that he would provide testimony in the Morales case that would not only secure a conviction, but also guarantee a verdict of first-degree murder with special circumstances, ensuring that Michael Morales would be eligible for the death penalty. In exchange for this testimony, Samuelson demanded that felony charges pending against him be dismissed and that he be provided other benefits. SN&R obtained a copy of Samuelson’s handwritten proposal:
In exchange for my testimony in the Morales case, which will guarantee a murder 1 conviction w/special circumstances, I feel the following is a fair agreement,
(1) Immediate placement on the Witness Protection Program
(2) Release on O.R. until your case goes to trial & I testify. Upon completion of my testimony all current & pending charges be dropped w/no further prosecution.
(3) Place to stay w/phone for 3-4 mos.
(4) Job placement & money to support during 3-4 mos or until I start getting reg. pay from job.
(6) New Identification
(7) Eye Exam & Glasses
In addition to testimony, I have further testimony in the James Mahoney case, and I believe that I can assist you in getting drug sales indictments against some of North Stockton’s more large volume dealers. What I have to tell you in regards to Morales will be quite a bit more than you expected.
Garber apparently gave Samuelson a counter offer in which four of six felony charges against the informant were dismissed, and the other fringe benefits were not provided. SN&R wanted to ask the San Joaquin County district attorney’s office about the Morales case and the Samuelson deal, but District Attorney James Willet and Deputy District Attorney Charles Schultz, the office’s designated contact for the Morales case, did not return several phone messages left for them.
But the Samuelson compensation process nonetheless provides a rare glimpse into the world of what the legal community refers to as “incentivised testimony.” In a 2004 report, “The Snitch System,” the Northwestern University School of Law Center on Wrongful Convictions studied 111 death-row exonerations and found that incentivised informant testimony was the leading cause of wrongful convictions. Fifty-one of the 111 exonerations involved death sentences that were imposed in whole or in part on the testimony of witnesses with incentives to lie. Most were promised leniency in their own cases; some were killers with incentives to cast suspicion away from themselves. And the problem is not exclusive to the United States.
The same year that Terri Winchell was murdered in Lodi, 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel was brutally killed in the city of Winnipeg, Canada. Thomas Sophonow was charged with the crime and convicted, partly because of the testimony of a jailhouse informant. The conviction was later reversed by an appellate court, and Sophonow was declared innocent. The Manitoba attorney general conducted an exhaustive investigation into why an innocent man was convicted. Among other things, the investigation found that jailhouse informants are “the most deceitful and deceptive group of witnesses known to frequent the courts.”