MANATEE — A judge gave the defense attorneys for a teen convicted of second-degree murder the green light to take depositions with a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office crime scene technician after it was brought to light he was under investigation for failing to turn in evidence in the case at the time of the trial.
The crime scene technician, James Wade Holbrook, who has worked in criminal investigations since 1997, failed to produce a crime scene sketch with measurements and video footage of where 18-year-old Dejuan Williams was gunned down by Byron Galloway on Aug. 4, 2009, according to an internal report at the sheriff’s office.
He was suspended for 16 hours without pay.
Attorneys for Galloway, who is now 17, believe it warrants a new trial, citing a possible Brady violation.
A Brady violation stems from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that compels law enforcement and prosecutors to give the defense any evidence that could negate or diminish the state’s case against the defense.
Galloway’s attorneys, Chris Pratt and Mark Lipinski, argued Galloway was acting in self-defense. Eyewitness accounts of Williams’ friends on the scene revealed a variety of distances between Galloway and Williams.
Lipinski argued a detailed crime scene sketch with measurements could have made a difference during the trial, which lasted one week. Another crime scene tech took measurements three weeks after Williams’ murder.
Holbrook was under an internal investigation from Aug. 27 to Sept. 8. Holbrook said he “believed he had completed the video, but was not sure,” according to the internal report. He also failed to provide a sketch.
Holbrook at first thought he may have placed the evidence in another murder file. In 2009, the sheriff’s office had a record number of 24 homicides.
The sheriff’s office was in touch with the State Attorney’s Office about the missing evidence on Aug. 4, said Lipinski citing e-mails in court. “They had two to three weeks before trial and they didn’t even tell us,” Lipinski said.
Darlene Ragoonanan, assistant state attorney, argued all the information prosecutors received was passed on to the defense. She said they were made aware there was no video back in April.
Holbrook was never called to take the stand during the trial.
“Holbrook’s deposition could have been taken, but it wasn’t. ... That could have been followed up with due diligence,” she said, noting the case was based mainly on eyewitness testimony rather than law enforcement investigation.
Ragoonanan said she was unaware there was an active internal investigation on Holbrook at the time of the trial.
Carla Thomas, Williams’ aunt, sat through the hearing with other family members.
“I’m feeling it’s a waste of time. I’m feeling they are trying to buy them some more time because it’s getting close to sentencing,” she said.
Smith will hold an evidentiary hearing to hear from both sides after depositions are taken. He will then render a decision on whether Galloway should have a new trial.
“It’s just bringing more pain to the family,” Thomas said. “We’re gonna stay strong because we know Judge Smith is gonna do the right thing.”
Galloway was visiting Washington’s younger sister when Williams came home and confronted him in the backyard with a baseball bat asking him why he was there. Galloway apologized first before brandishing a handgun and shooting Williams in the chest. He was convicted Sept. 3 and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
When the items weren’t provided to the defense during discovery, Lipinski said, “Now we know the reason why — it was a sloppy investigation,” noting the sheriff’s office found Holbrook was negligent of his duties.
Holbrook’s personnel file shows a long history of job performance issues outside of this incident.
“He knows his job, but because he does not have a system to keep everything in perspective he will lose track of what needs to be done. ... He cannot be relied upon to complete his task completely,” according to a review dated from 1999.
In the last year he scored a 66 percent on a review and was placed on a performance improvement plan because he wasn’t meeting minimum standards. As of July, his last evaluation was 76 percent, according to records.