Crime - Sacto 911

DA candidate accused of 'secret deal' with murder defendant for lighter sentence

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

District attorney candidate Noah Phillips was hit with claims of prosecutorial misconduct Friday after a defense attorney accused the deputy DA of brokering a secret deal with a defendant’s counsel in a 2016 murder trial to trade a lighter sentence for testimony against the man’s co-defendants.

The accusation, in a motion filed by Sacramento attorney Michael Wise calling for a new trial and introduced Friday before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Curtis Fiorini, alleges Phillips made the deal with murder defendant Tiwan Greenwade's attorney, Danny Brace. Brace denied the allegation Friday.

Phillips blasted the allegations as a brazen show of power by boss and campaign rival Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert in the heat of a contested election. Phillips, on a leave of absence from the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office as he runs for election, did not appear at the morning hearing.

In his place in court was supervising prosecutor Dawn Bladet. On Friday, Phillips said he had earlier been removed from the case and is now unable to rebut the allegations before Fiorini.

"I'm trying to change parts of the criminal justice system that have been in place for 30 years. They aren't just going to hand it over," Phillips said. "When I first started campaigning, they told me I was disgruntled. Then they told me I was incompetent. Then they told me I was an opportunist. Now, they're telling me I can't run a trial. My record in seeking justice stands on its own."

Phillips has positioned himself to the left of Schubert and has attacked her handling of the killings of Stephon Clark and Joseph Mann by Sacramento police, making law enforcement accountability for both deaths a centerpiece of his campaign, while promising sweeping reforms, if elected.

Schubert is under increasing pressure to file charges against the officers who fired the shots that killed Clark on March 18.

Schubert has faced nearly daily protests outside her offices, taken heat for donations collected from law enforcement unions in the days after Clark was fatally shot, and earlier this week appealed for patience, telling reporters that she still awaits findings from Sacramento police and Sacramento County coroner's officials. Schubert said her office's own probe could take many months to complete.

On Friday, a tall chain-link fence was erected in front of the DA's office, apparently to thwart demonstrators.

Greenwade was one of four held on murder charges in the August 2016 home burglary-turned-killing of 60-year-old Ashok Kumar at his south Sacramento residence.

“The Deputy District Attorney assigned to prosecute this matter made a secret deal with counsel for co-defendant Greenwade wherein the District Attorney would argue for manslaughter at closing argument in exchange for Mr. Greewade testifying in a manner that cast additional aspersions and guilt upon the remaining three co-defendants,” Wise wrote, adding that he did not know of a deal at trial, resulting in an unfair trial.

Jurors eventually convicted Kumar’s wife, Rohini Kumar, Vicky Rainone and Wise’s client, Raghua Sharma, of first-degree murder in the Aug. 12, 2016, slaying and the three await sentencing. Jurors found Greenwade not guilty of first- and second-degree murder, but convicted him of voluntary manslaughter. He too awaits sentencing.

Fiorini ordered the sides to return April 27.

Brace bristled at the allegations in court and in a later interview with The Bee.

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

At his downtown offices, Brace said Phillips did provide him with some of the questions he planned to ask Greenwade, but that the prosecutor never talked with Greenwade.

“They’re saying there’s a secret deal?’ Brace said. “That’s absolutely not true.”

Wise was somber following the hearing.

“I’ve never made this kind of allegation in 25 years of practice, but I’m disappointed by what I’ve read from the witness statements. We’ve identified several witnesses who indicated Greenwade spoke about having a deal for manslaughter,” Wise said, adding that one witness even predicted that Phillips would argue for manslaughter before the deputy prosecutor presented his closing argument to the jury.

Wise called the witness’s prediction “curious – and troubling.”

Wise said he knew the filing’s timing could be seen through the lens of a contentious race to become the county’s top prosecutor. Wise said he has known and worked with both Phillips and Schubert for about 20 years.

“Noah was my friend at the beginning of this trial. I had been reticent to file because of the political climate, but I would be ineffective as counsel if I didn’t pursue a motion. I had no choice but to file,” Wise said. “I’m filing this with a heavy heart.”

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