Myers says office did nothing wrong
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Ninth District Attorney Mac Myers said Friday he thinks neither he nor his office did anything wrong by failing to disclose damaging information on ex-Silt police officer Michael Williams.
Two public defenders, Greg Greer and Jim Conway, disagreed with Myers’ assessment, saying the lack of disclosure was a serious constitutional breach that should be remedied.
The hearing went longer than scheduled and will be continued on Tuesday.
Greer’s pointed questions were aimed at Myers in an attempt to show that Myers and attorneys in his office unjustly kept damaging information about Williams from defendants and their attorneys.
Greer said the DA’s failure to disclose this information prompted many defendants to accept plea bargains with no knowledge that Williams had a past conviction of official misconduct. Some of those defendants remain in state prison.
While on the stand, Myers said the information at issue wasn’t intentionally kept from defense attorneys. And while he admitted that each of his deputy DAs informally knew of Williams’ conviction, he claims nobody in his office, except deputy DA Trisha Lacey, knew a 417-page file on the officer was present in the office.
Myers also said he feels the disclosure law that would require him to turn over such information only applies if the defendant goes to trial.
Greer’s questions were part of an effort to overturn the guilty plea made by 30-year-old Shane Nicholson – who was arrested by Williams in January 2002 and eventually convicted on charges of methamphetamine possession.
“This is an unpleasant time for this district to deal with this,” Greer said. “But to conceal more information about, ironically, concealed information, is not going to do the public any good.”
Nicholson’s public defender Jim Conway also took the stand. Conway answered deputy DA Lawson Wills’ questions, but after just about every answer Conway said the entire process was tainted by information that wasn’t offered by the DA’s office.
“I’d never seen anything like it in my 30 years as an attorney,” Conway said.
The file not only included information about Williams’ conviction, it also had information indicating that “other officers thought (Williams) was a liar,” Conway said.
“Basically, it was a dynamite piece of information,” Conway said.
Friday’s hearing was the first of as many as 190 cases in which defense attorneys could have reason to file motions to withdraw their clients’ guilty pleas. Those motions would be based on the DA’s office failure to disclose information that could have placed into question the credibility of former Silt police officer Michael Williams.
myers: see page 2
“The 417 pages of material is a book of material that provided evidence of past misconduct by Mr. Williams and past instances of dishonesty by Mr. Williams,” Greer said. “I intend to prove that the DA, Mac Myers, knew of this evidence in the notebook.”
Before Myers testified Friday, all prosecution and defense witnesses were sequestered in the hallway outside the courtroom.
Defense witnesses were Myers, Lacey, deputy DA Jan Hindman-Shute, deputy DA Jason Jovanovich and DA office administrative assistant Sheila Onsgard. Prosecution witnesses included New Castle police chief Chris Sadler and Silt police sergeant Tony Pagni.
Near the beginning of the hearing, Ninth District Judge T. Peter Craven tried to determine if it would be possible for the Nicholson case to be used as a precedent for the other 189 possible motions.
“Do you want to go through this exercise for each of the cases, or do you want to use this as a pilot to answer the disclosure issues?” Craven asked.
The issue was not resolved.
Information released only for trials
While on the stand, Myers admitted knowing about Williams’ past as early as August 1999 and said he was “concerned” about it.
“I was aware there was a case file there. I did not read it. I read a newspaper article that satisfied me that Mr. Williams was charged with felonies and was convicted of official misconduct,” Myers said.
Myers also admitted that each deputy DA in his office knew something of Williams’ past, but said they didn’t know the packet of information was in his office. He said his policy was to only release the information to defense attorneys if a defendant was going to trial.
“So is it your testimony that you had the information on a convicted police officer in your office but nobody bothered to read it?” Greer asked.
“You have to understand that people didn’t know about this until the Haskins hearing,” Myers said of an January 2003 hearing.
The drunken driving case against William R. Haskins, 49, of Silt was dropped when Garfield County Court Judge Victor Zerbi discovered that the information about Williams’ conviction wasn’t provided to Haskins’ defense attorney.
A voluntary plea?
With time running short, Myers was told to step down at 4:40 p.m. to allow Conway to take the stand. Myers will continue his testimony on Tuesday.
Wills quickly fired questions at Conway aimed at proving Nicholson entered his plea voluntarily.
“Mr. Nicholson did not want to plead guilty on this case,” Conway said. “Had I known then what I know now, I never would have made that recommendation.”
Wills asked if Nicholson’s plea form specifically indicates he accepted the plea voluntarily.
“But Mr. Wills, it can’t be voluntary if he doesn’t have all the information,” Conway answered.
After Wills asked several questions about the plea form, Craven jumped in and suggested that the core of the case could be the difference between entering a plea voluntarily vs. knowingly.
“All I had to go on were statements by officer Williams,” Conway said. “This was a case of an officer’s word against laypeople, and a jury usually believes an officer’s word,” Conway said. “Officers are respected and it’s assumed they’re the ultimate law-abiding citizens. . He pleaded guilty because he didn’t think he could win at trial.”
Conway said he regrets ever telling Nicholson to plead guilty.
“I told him to do it and I didn’t have all the information,” he said. “It was a fraud, this case, it was a fraud.”
Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511
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