Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Police provided false testimony in rape case

Judge considers dismissal of indictment against Marsalis

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley rape suspect Jeffrey Marsalis, at right, confers with Hailey attorney Douglas Nelson during a “motion to dismiss” hearing Monday in Blaine County 5th District Court.

A Sun Valley police investigator and the Blaine County prosecuting attorney admitted Monday in 5th District Court that false information was provided to a grand jury that indicted Jeffrey J. Marsalis on a 2005 rape charge.

"Clearly the testimony was incorrect," said Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas, referring to statements made by Sun Valley investigator Mike Crawford to the grand jury in April 2006. Crawford, now Sun Valley's assistant police chief, admitted on the witness stand Monday that he incorrectly told the grand jury that tests on a substance police believed to be a "date rape drug" where inconclusive, when in fact the tests were negative.

"I did not see those lab results prior to the grand jury hearing," said Crawford, who further acknowledged that the results were delivered to Sun Valley police from the Idaho State Police forensics laboratory in November 2005.

Hailey attorney Douglas Nelson, who is representing Marsalis on the Sun Valley rape charge, has alleged that Crawford committed perjury and was "aided and abetted" by former Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Warren Christiansen.

"Every chemical test run by the state lab showed that no controlled substance was ever found," Nelson told the court. "But instead of telling the grand jury that, you get this other story.

"It is inconceivable to me that the lead detective prepared for testimony and didn't review that document. It is inconceivable to me that Mike Crawford hadn't seen it and didn't know about it. It is also inconceivable to me that Warren Christiansen would come to court not having seen a very important lab result that goes to the heart of what they were trying to prove in this case."

Monday's court hearing was held at the request of Nelson, who is seeking dismissal of the grand jury indictment. Nelson said it doesn't matter whether Crawford's false testimony was intentional or not—it was still prejudicial to his client.

"The guy got indicted—that seems pretty prejudicial to me," Nelson said.

Judge Robert J. Elgee said he will review the grand jury transcripts and defense and prosecution written arguments and will make a decision "as quickly as I can."

A jury trial in the case is scheduled to begin on Jan. 5. Marsalis is charged in the indictment with raping a then-21-year-old coworker at his Sun Valley condominium on Oct. 9, 2005. He was indicted by the grand jury on the charge the following April.

Marsalis was convicted in Philadelphia in 2007 of two felony counts of sexual assault and a misdemeanor charge of unlawful restraint and sentenced in Pennsylvania to 21 years in prison. He had been charged in Philadelphia with date raping seven women in a case that received national news media attention.

Marsalis was extradited in August to Blaine County from the Forest State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania where he is serving his sentence for the Philadelphia convictions.

The defendant's father, Forrest Marsalis, a former military and commercial pilot from Phoenix, Ariz., attended Monday's hearing in Hailey. Forrest Marsalis was also present for the court proceedings against his son in Philadelphia.

Jeffrey Marsalis, wearing orange jail attire and a gray sweatshirt, sat attentively at the defendant's table, frequently conferring with Nelson, during Monday's hearing. His hair was cut short military-style and he sported a couple of days of whisker stubble on his face.

Crawford was the only witness called to testify at the hearing. He told the court that a warrant was obtained to search Marsalis' condominium on Oct. 10, 2005, and that a white powdery substance was found in a plastic flip-top container for Listerine lozenges. The substance was sent to the ISP crime lab the following day. Crawford said he called the lab a few days later and was told that there might not be enough of the substance for testing.

That information however, was contradicted by a lab report received the following month that stated that there was enough of the substance for testing. The test did not determine what the substance was, but did determine that it was not a date-rape or illegal drug.

Crawford said he only learned of the contradiction when Thomas contacted him last month after Nelson filed his motion for dismissal.

Crawford acknowledged that the lab result document was in the case folder that he took to the witness stand with him when he testified before the grand jury.

"So the results were within inches of your hand and still you did not tell the grand jury?" Nelson asked Crawford.

"I did not know those results existed," Crawford replied.

Thomas denied that perjury occurred and described the testimony as "excusable neglect." He further claimed that the grand jury would have indicted Marsalis anyway because other evidence presented indicated that the alleged victim was incapacitated when she was allegedly sexually attacked.

"There's nothing to indicate that he (Crawford) provided any kind of perjury," Thomas said. "If the court finds this is perjury, then I would say dismiss the case."

Nelson told the Idaho Mountain Express that he will seek a change of venue, likely in Boise, if Elgee does not dismiss the case.

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