By Michael Lacey
For an update on this story, read Feathered Bastard.
County Attorney Andrew Thomas must personally appear in court tomorrow to explain why he jeopardized the case against two notorious serial killers. The prosecutor authorized a wiretap of the suspects without a judge's signature.
This isn't the first time Thomas has ignored due process said Gerald Richard, former legal adviser to the Phoenix Police Department who is currently running for Thomas' seat. But the serial killer case may now unravel despite a confession by one of the perps.
Before you dismiss this as campaign posturing by Richard, let me tell you a little something about someone I regard as a stand-up guy, someone who had a ringside seat to the horrifying serial shooter case.
Richard swung by New Times this morning to renew our acquaintance. I first met him in the early '90s. As legal adviser to the cops, he usually had an opposing view of the violence I covered in gang related articles. He never gave an inch when it came to defending a cop.
And as the in-house lawyer in charge of legal oversight of the police department's special team assigned to nail "Serial Shooter" suspects Dale Hausner and Sam Dieteman, Richard, in particular, wanted the killers off the streets and an end to the terror that gripped the Valley over 14 long months in 2005 and 2006.
"We were the ones watching these guys," said Richard of the police. You don't undermine a case like this with shortcuts. "You dot all the i's, cross all the t's."
Instead, Thomas opted for expediency and invoked an emergency statute that allowed the prosecutor to authorize a wiretap without a judge.
The police requested the wiretap. But according to Ken Everett, an attorney representing the shooters, one of Thomas' prosecutors suggested everyone could ignore going to a judge, cite an emergency, and worry about constitutional safeguards later.
Thomas was only too happy to invoke ARS-13-3015.
But Everett asks what judge would have refused to sign a wiretap order at whatever hour of the day if presented with actual evidence about the Serial Shooter case.
According to Everett, the evidence obtained with the wiretap proved critical.
And County Attorney Thomas, who fought in vain against disclosing his role in this sad mess, now brags that he will be happy to discuss under oath his role in nailing the "Serial Shooters."
Unlike County Attorney Thomas, Richard has actually prosecuted felony cases.
"I always told the jury that I represented the state of Arizona, and that included the defendant and the defendant's rights," said Richard.
He is that rare bird that believes in hard time, in the officers that make the cases, and in the civil rights of all caught up in the process. The words are not mere rhetoric to Richard.
After leaving the County Attorney's office, Richard became the Phoenix cop shop's mouthpiece. In that capacity he not only defended policemen, he established 11 distinct citizen advisory boards for gays, blacks, Jews, Muslims, Hispanics and other groups who are both the targets of hate crimes and the victims of aggressive policing. Far from perfect, these boards nonetheless gave meaning to the term 'human rights' in local law enforcement.
Richard had the credibility to establish this sort of outreach into the community without appearing to be a bleeding heart to either patrolmen or detectives. His gang prosecutions had salt; a street banger he put away took out a contract on Richard's life.
Richard is alarmed at the pattern of short cuts taken at the expense of civil liberties he see with Thomas.
"He has virtually eliminated preliminary hearings," noted Richard. "A judge no longer determines probable cause. You are offered a plea agreement and if you decline, you go to a grand jury."
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And as readers of this paper well know, County Attorney Andrew Thomas has operated an illegal grand jury proceeding since assuming office, a scandal unearthed when the prosecutor arrested me and my partner, Jim Larkin over our published expose of Thomas' office. After Thomas called a hasty press conference to drop the case against us, Judge Anna Baca ruled that the prosecutor had violated state grand jury statutes.
When Gerald Richard warns that his opponent, incumbent County Attorney Andrew Thomas, has needlessly put the prosecution of the "Serial Shooter" at risk, you need to listen.
With eight dead bodies and 17 others wounded, the courts may yet determine that what Thomas did in executing a search warrant without a judge's signature did not break the law.
"It might be legal," observed Richard, "but it's not right."