After conviction, witness said he lied in testimony
A request for a new trial was denied Tuesday in a case that resulted in the convictions of three people, an $8,000 sanction against prosecutors and allegations of misconduct against attorneys on both sides.
Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price ruled that 22-year-old Tyler W. Gassman should not receive a new trial even after a key witness changed his story and said he lied to try to improve his own case.
Requests for new trials based on the same information are pending for co-defendants Paul E. Statler, 22, and Robert Larson, 29. Both requests are expected to be argued next Wednesday.
Price wrote that a new trial must be based, in part, on “new evidence” that was unavailable prior to trial. The request failed to meet that standard, he wrote.
Gassman’s attorney sought a new trial after witness Anthony Kongchunji, 21, wrote a letter to Statler’s father saying that Kongchunji conspired with another witness to bring false allegations that resulted in convictions against Statler, Gassman and Larson.
“The fact that Mr. Gassman’s lawyer chose not to call Mr. Kongchunji at trial in this proceeding does not make Mr. Kongchunji’s testimony, whatever it may have been, ‘newly discovered,’ ” Price wrote.
Gassman’s attorney, David Partovi, said the ruling was “disheartening” because he didn’t learn about Kongchunji’s change of story until after the trial.
Partovi said he plans to appeal the conviction.
In February, a jury convicted Gassman, Statler and Larson of first-degree robbery, first-degree assault and drive-by shooting.
The case drew attention because of a decision by sheriff’s Detective William Francis to change the date of the alleged robbery from April 15, 2008, to April 17, 2008. The defendants had less secure alibis on the latter date. Deputy Prosecutor Eugene Cruz amended the charges with the new date as the trial was about to begin on Jan. 12.
Defense attorneys said they weren’t notified of the change before the trial and argued they needed that information to provide an adequate defense.
Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen agreed, sanctioning the prosecutors $8,000 and rebuking them for their handling of the case.
Partovi accused Cruz of prosecutorial misconduct, and Cruz later filed a complaint against Partovi to the Washington State Bar Association after the defense attorney pushed for a “release-dismiss” agreement for Gassman.