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State Seeks To Keep Scott Lewis Jailed

by Paul Bass | Jan 3, 2014 12:12 pm

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Posted to: Legal Writes

Contributed Photo The chief state’s attorney’s office has decided not to stand by as a federal judge seeks to free a New Haven man who has spent 18 years in a jail for a sensational double murder both he and the FBI say he didn’t commit.

The office filed a motion this week seeking to stay a ruling by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. granting a habeas corpus petition filed by New Haven’s Scott Lewis (pictured).

Lewis went to jail 18 years ago for allegedly killing a former New Haven alderman-turned-drug-dealer named Ricardo Turner and his lover in their bed in 1990. An FBI investigation subsequently concluded that a crooked cop involved in the cocaine trade set up Lewis and his co-defendant, Stefon Morant, for a murder they didn’t commit. But the state remained convinced it had prosecuted the right killers—and fought their efforts to go free.

Federal Judge Haight, in his Dec. 16 ruling, excoriated the seven state judges who denied Lewis’s various appeals. (Read about all that here.) He ordered Lewis released from prison within 60 days—unless the state filed a motion to appeal his decision.

The chief state’s attorney office chose to do just that, electronically filing a motion with the U.S. District Court Tuesday to stay the decision. The office wants the chance to appeal Judge Haight’s decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District.

“This Court should afford Connecticut’s Appellate and Supreme Courts enough respect that it allows their decisions to be defended on appeal without interference,” wrote Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Jo Anne Sulik.Among other arguments, Sulik disagreed with Judge Haight that Lewis had “exhausted all remedies” in the state courts. She also disagreed that the state had failed to disclose to Lewis “exculpatory” information—information that could help him win his case, in this instance allegations about the manufacture of testimony by the state’s key witness. Sulik argued that an investigator for the state public defender’s office had access to information that was later revealed, post-trial, by a former New Haven police lieutenant. Therefore, Lewis “knew or should have known” the “essential facts” about the allegation, thereby negating the need for disclosure by the state, Sulik argued.Click here to read the state’s motion. Click here to read the office’s memorandum of law in support of the motion.Click here for a detailed account of the FBI revelations and the specifics of this case, from a 1998 expose in the now-defunct New Haven Advocate. And click here to read the full FBI report, which covered wide ground about New Haven’s drug trade. After Lewis and his alleged accomplice in the double murder, Stefon Morant, were convicted, the former police lieutenant, Michael Sweeney, came forward to describe what had happened when Detective Vincent Raucci (pictured) brought in the one key witness on whom the whole case rested, a serial criminal named Ovil Ruiz. Sweeney was present at the time. He testified that Ruiz told him three times he knew nothing about the murder. He testified that Raucci continued to feed Ruiz facts about what happened in the murder, then led him to prepare a statement that pinned the murder on Lewis and Morant. Ruiz ended up providing what was by all accounts the central testimony on which Lewis and Morant were convicted. (Raucci denied allegations that he set up an innocent man or coached Ruiz on his statement.)In a recent federal hearing, state prosecutor Sulik sought to discredit Sweeney’s testimony. Judge Haight wasn’t buying. Like state judges before him, he concluded that Sweeney’s testimony was credible. Unlike those state judges, he also concluded that the state violated Lewis’s rights under the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution to have access to exculpatory evidence to make his defense. (That’s called a “Brady” claim under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case Brady v. Maryland.)Judge Haight went so far as to call state Judge Howard Zoarski’s reasoning on this issue “suspect,” “erroneous,” and “unreasonable.” Here’s what Haight wrote about Sweeney’s testimony:

I conclude that his testimony is credible. ... As I watched Sweeney recount these events on the witness stand close at hand to my position on the bench, his demeanor gave me the impression that he took no pleasure in the testimony he was giving. My sense is that this former NHPD detective was troubled by the sworn account he recited:  troubled by the circumstance of describing dishonorable conduct by a former fellow officer of a police department Sweeney had served with honor for thirty years; and troubled by his own failure to act more forcefully at the time of Raucci’s transgressions. But Sweeney’s answers to my questions toward the end of his testimony were firm and unhesitating.  There was nothing in Sweeney’s answers or his demeanor in making them to suggest that he was doing anything other than give an honest and straightforward account of events that for Sweeney were distasteful, on professional and personal levels. His testimony had about it the ring of truth.

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