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San Francisco's 'Dark Prince' may get new trial

An alleged San Francisco swindler known as the “Dark Prince” was found guilty of murder in a 2012 trial in Riverside County. He was sentenced to life in prison. Now he may get a new trial because secret recordings have emerged of the trial judge making biased and homophobic comments about him and other defendants.

For years, the existence of these recordings was rumored. The Desert Sun newspaper obtained and released them last week. Apparently, the alleged con man’s co-defendant left a laptop on a table during a break in the trial, and that laptop recorded the judge’s comments.

The Riverside County judge called the “Dark Prince” and his co-defendant “clowns” and “assholes” and noted that one of them was HIV positive. This meant, the judge implied, that an HIV-positive person had licked the envelopes on documents submitted to the courts. “God knows where that tongue has been,” the judge said.

Even more disturbingly, the judge seems to admit making an improper decision about a defense motion. The two co-defendants had moved to sever their trials and be tried separately. This is generally done because, for example, the two defendants will be making incompatible defenses or because facts admitted against one of them would bias the jury against the other.

Judges are generally supposed to grant such motions when the defense shows it would be more likely than not that a combined jury would be unduly influenced. In this case, the judge’s comments imply that he knew he should grant the motion but that he planned not to.

“The fact is that if I sever them, then it means that we have to try this twice,” the judge is heard to say.

“The judge’s commentary reveals the ugly truth that you don’t always get a fair trial in this country,” said the “Dark Prince’s” defense attorney. “Thankfully, in this case, we can do something about it.”

The Riverside County DA’s office issued a statement that it was “deeply troubled” and didn’t condone the judge’s comments. “We take very seriously our obligation to ensure that the rights of the defendants and the victims are protected and that above all justice is done,” the statement reads.

Every defendant deserves a trial before an impartial judge. Our citizens will lose trust in the justice system when judges pick and choose who gets a fair trial. Regardless of the defendant’s charges or prior convictions, the so-called “Dark Prince” is right to appeal his conviction before an apparently biased judge.

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