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Attorney doubles down on 'secret deal' charges against DA candidate Phillips

Sacramento County prosecutor Noah Phillips makes his closing statement as Orville Fleming sits in court on Monday, May 22, 2015 in Sacramento Superior Court.
Sacramento County prosecutor Noah Phillips makes his closing statement as Orville Fleming sits in court on Monday, May 22, 2015 in Sacramento Superior Court. Sacramento Bee

A Sacramento defense attorney is doubling down on his charges of a secret deal between District Attorney’s candidate Noah Phillips and a homicide defendant’s attorney at a murder trial Phillips prosecuted in 2016 in new court papers filed Wednesday.

Meantime, a defiant Phillips wants Sacramento County prosecutors taken off the case, now nearing sentencing, claiming his political rival has a conflict of interest in the heat of an election that is now less than two months away.

The papers filed by attorney Michael Wise include email exchanges between Phillips and defense attorney Danny Brace, attorney for Tiwan Greenwade, that Wise argues are “overwhelming evidence of a conspiracy of deceit agreed upon in secret," calling the alleged pact "disgusting and disheartening."

Wise’s client Raghua Sharma and two others, Vicky Rainone and Rohini Kumar, were convicted of first-degree murder in the Aug. 12, 2016 killing of Kumar’s husband, 60-year-old Ashok Kumar at the Kumars' south Sacramento home.

Wise on Friday accused Phillips of committing prosecutorial misconduct by convincing Greenwade to implicate his co-defendants in exchange for a lighter manslaughter sentence that Phillips would argue for in his summation.

Jurors acquitted Greenwade of first- and second-degree murder, but convicted him of voluntary manslaughter in a trial that Wise now calls a “sham.” All await sentencing.

Wise is now demanding Sacramento Superior Court Judge Curtis Fiorini declare a mistrial in the case based on the misconduct accusation. The sides will face Fiorini on Friday to argue the motion. Phillips, on a leave of absence for his campaign, is expected to appear.

Phillips, locked in a race for Sacramento County District Attorney with incumbent Anne Marie Schubert, countered Wednesday saying he is calling on the state Attorney General's Office to take over the case. He pointed to supervising prosecutor Dawn Bladet, now heading the case. Campaign spending reports show Bladet donated $250 to Schubert’s reelection campaign in October 2017.

“This is a serious allegation, prosecutorial misconduct. The person handling the case is a financial contributor of Schubert’s and a Schubert supporter,” Phillips said. “The idea that she’s handling the case doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Phillips on Friday blasted the initial charges coming less than two months to Election Day as a politically motivated power move by incumbent DA Anne Marie Schubert.

Phillips expanded on the denials Wednesday, saying that he argued for a felony murder charge for Greenwade at trial and that no deal was ever made with Brace to exchange Greenwade’s testimony for a manslaughter sentence.

“We never had a conversation – ever - before Greenwade testified about how he was going to testify. … There were no conversations about arguing for manslaughter or for going lightly on his guy,” Phillips said. “I advocated for first-degree felony murder. (Greenwade) was at a crossroads. He made a choice to go in that house. He’s in for a penny, in for a pound.”

The new evidence, released Monday from the Sacramento County District Attorney’s conviction integrity unit, also contains what Wise called a “shopping list of demands” for Brace to prepare Greenwade to testify to on the stand - seven pages of questions Phillips reportedly prepared to ask Greenwade at cross-examination.

The questions, Wise argued “would solidify Mr. Phillips’ case against Mr. Sharma and the remaining co-defendants.”

“Pathetic,” Wise concluded.

Wise’s documents include a Jan. 11 email from Phillips to deputy district attorney Berkeley Collins. In it, Phillips writes that he provided a copy of his cross-examination questions to Brace: “FYI I gave Danny (Brace) my cross of his guy (Greenwade) who is testifying at 1:30!” according to the document.

Another email exchange between Phillips and Brace on Feb. 28, appears to discuss Greenwade’s potential sentence, the possibility of delaying his sentencing hearing, and Phillips’ upcoming sentencing recommendation to Fiorini.

In the February exchange, Brace writes in part, “I would like to make sure you are OK by recommending (a) midterm (sentence) to the judge in spite of (Sacramento County) Probation’s recommendation,” adding that they can set Greenwade’s sentencing date apart from defendants Sharma, Rainone and Kumar “to keep it separate from the other defendants.”

“Let me know when you wanna talk and we can put over Tiwan for a couple of weeks,” Phillips wrote.

But Phillips maintained there was “nothing untoward” about sharing the questions with Brace, saying the prepared queries were “a fraction” of what he planned to ask during Greenwade’s three days on the witness stand.

The documents also include a defense investigator’s jailhouse interview of an inmate. According to the investigator’s statement, the inmate said Greenwade told him he had a deal with his attorney and Phillips, had lied in court and later tearfully apologized to Sharma.

But Phillips on Wednesday said Greenwade’s testimony never placed Sharma at the crime scene. Meantime, Brace in court and in a later interview after Wise’s initial allegations Friday firmly denied Greenwade perjured himself and rejected claims of a deal with Phillips.

“I’m appalled by the allegations,” Brace said Friday. “Mr. Greenwade waits to be sentenced. He did not perjure himself. He did not lie.”

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