A panel of Fourth District Court of Appeal justices reversed a murder conviction in a 1992 Santa Ana cold case that was reopened by investigators in 2009.
The three-justice panel reversed the second-degree murder conviction of Darrell Lynn Booth, 52, and ordered a new trial. In the new trial, the justices mandated that jurors hear a tape-recorded interview with a key witness no one has been able to track down in recent years.
The unavailability Wednesday of the witness played a key role in the justices’ ruling.
The justices found that Booth’s Sixth Amendment rights were violated because of ineffective assistance of counsel.
They faulted his attorney for not filing a motion to dismiss charges because his client could not get a fair trial due to the unavailability of the witness, Ellis Bradford, who told police Booth was not at the scene of the shooting.
The justices ruled that Booth could get a fair trial “by retrying the case and allowing the jury to hear the exculpatory statements that Bradford made to the police after the shooting.
“Despite the hearsay nature of those statements, their admission is necessitated by Bradford’s unavailability and the unusual circumstances presented in this case. Since Bradford’s statements have been preserved on tape, the jury will be able to hear exactly what he said and how he said it.”
Booth’s appellate attorney, Suzanne Giannetta Wrubel, told City News Service that Bradford is a “totally exonerating witness for Mr. Booth, but by the time of his arrest he totally disappeared.”
Bradford, who was working as a security guard, witnessed the Aug. 1, 1992, shooting death of Terry Ross in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven store at 302 E. 17th St.
The case remained dormant until investigators reopened it in 2009 and were led to Tommy Lamont Haslip, who had renounced his gang ties and relocated to Earle, Arkansas, where he had settled down to a law-abiding life.
Haslip, 46, is serving a 14-year sentence after he agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter in February 2013.
Booth was acquitted of first-degree murder, but found guilty of second- degree murder. Jurors rejected a sentencing enhancement for firing a gun. It’s unclear who fired the fatal shot, but Wrubel believes it was Haslip while prosecutors say it was Booth.
Another victim of the shooting who survived — Stephen Strong — told police the trouble started with a conflict at a liquor store hours before the shooting. Haslip’s cousin was struck in the head with a bottle during the scuffle and the shooting was payback, according to the ruling.
Wrubel said her client’s trial attorney should have filed a motion to dismiss the charges saying he was prejudiced by the “20-year delay in this prosecution and he doesn’t have the benefit of this witness, who would have exonerated him.”
Wrubel also argued that Booth’s trial attorney did an inadequate job cross-examining another witness, Charles Honea, who picked out Booth in a photo lineup as someone who looked like one of the killers.
“From the police report, his 1992 identification was somewhat equivocal and they kind of failed to impeach him with his earlier statements,” Wrubel said. “His presentation at trial was certain and strong.”
In 2013, Deputy District Attorney Mark Geller said he built much of his case against Booth around his cousin Haslip’s testimony.
Another co-defendant, Terrance Lamont Timms, 43, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter on May 8, 2012, and sentenced to six years in prison.
At the time of his arrest, Haslip had settled down with his wife, a teacher, and their five children in Arkansas, according to his attorney, Dennis Gaughan.
Haslip was a diesel mechanic in Arkansas.
Haslip’s 18-year-old son, Lamon Khiry Haslip, was killed in an officer- involved shooting in Moreno Valley on Dec. 28, 2012, Gaughan said.
Haslip couldn’t attend his son’s funeral, his attorney said.
Lamon Haslip was reportedly shot after he ran from a car pulled over by police and was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed.
—City News Service