THE CASE OF THE MULTIPLYING FEDERAL TRIALS
On Friday, government prosecutors filed a motion asking that former Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca be tried in two separate trials, with two separate juries.
We have since learned that U.S. District Court judge Percy Anderson has granted the government’s motion. The jury selection for trial number one will begin on Monday, December 5.
Here’s the deal.
Baca, if you’ll remember has been indicted on three charges. In counts one and two Baca is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, for his alleged actions in the summer and early fall of 2011, after he learned that the FBI was engaging in an undercover investigation of corruption and brutality by deputies in the county’s jails.
In addition to the two obstruction charges, in a third count Baca is charged with making false statements to federal officials during a four and a half hour interview that took place in April 2013, when he was asked about his part in the alleged obstruction of feds’ investigation.
As we reported earlier, there has been a struggle between the prosecution and the defense about whether or not the defense’s Alzheimer’s expert, UCLA psychiatrist Dr. James Spar, would be allowed to testify about Baca’s diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease, and what it suggests about his cognitive ability in the years prior to his diagnosis when he committed his alleged crimes.
Baca was first officially diagnosed as having some kind of cognitive impairments, on May 13, 2014. According to the defense, Dr. Spar would testify to the probability that, at the time he was interviewed by the feds, Mr. Baca was in the “pre-clinical stage” of Alzheimers, which Spar contends “can occur 10 years or more before the onset of clinical symptoms.” Or alternately, Baca, according to Spar, could have been in the Mild Clinical Impairment” or MCI stage of Alzheimer’s in the spring of 2013.
Thus, if Dr.Spar is allowed to testify, he will reportedly suggest it is likely that Baca’s answers to the government’s questions in April 2013 were compromised by Baca’s not yet diagnosed early stage Alzheimers..
Defense attorney Nathan Hochman noted in a hearing on the matter late last month that Mr Baca answered “I don’t recall” 25 times” during the crucial 2013 interview with the government.
In response, lead prosecutor Brandon Fox pointed out that “I don’t recall,” is a common response by witnesses in the hot seat, and called Spar’s contention that Baca could have been suffering from some kind of cognitive impairment for up to ten years prior to his actual diagnosis “junk science.” Spar was “cherry picking” facts that were beneficial to the defense, Fox said.
At a pre-trial hearing that took place last Friday it appeared that Anderson would allow Dr. Spar to testify, but with some limitations. (As of this writing, Anderson had yet to formally rule on Spar.)
Among the reasons the government cited in its motion to severe the charges into two trials is the concern that, in a single trial, the jury may become “confused” by the contention that the former sheriff could have been cognitively impaired during the period in 2011, in which the events occurred that led to the obstruction charges against the sheriff, even though those charges do not hinge on Baca’s memory.
Spar’s proposed testimony, the government argued, “is based on insufficient facts and data. Dr. Spar’s proposed testimony would result in juror confusion and unfair prejudice to the government.”
With all this in mind, it was proper, the prosecution argued, that the first two charges be “severed” from the third, and tried separately “to avoid prejudicial spillover.”
The former sheriff’s defense team objected and wrote to the judge that,”having two trials will exact a huge financial toll on Mr. Baca who is funding his defense himself.”
But two trials it is.
There’s more. So stay tuned.
Note: The photo of former Los Angeles County Sheriff was taken earlier this year after his proposed plea deal with the government fell apart