A former criminal defense investigator was charged Wednesday with forging statements from jurors, witnesses and others during appeals of four death penalty cases, in what state prosecutors called "one of the largest frauds on the justice system in California history."
Kathleen Culhane, 40, pleaded not guilty in a Sacramento court to 45 criminal charges. She turned herself in Monday night and will be released from jail after posting $50,000 bail, probably by Friday, said her lawyer, Stuart Hanlon.
San Francisco, CA, November 17, 2006 — In February 2006, the Habeas Corpus Resource Center (HCRC) became aware of allegations that Ms. Kathleen Culhane had prepared and submitted fraudulent declarations to counsel for Michael Morales. Ms. Culhane was employed by the HCRC as an investigator between October 2001 and June 2005. At the time Ms. Culhane joined HCRC she was an experienced, highly-recommended capital case investigator. Ms. Culhane’s work product was regarded as being of high quality, and HCRC has had no indication that the information she obtained on behalf of HCRC clients could be subjected to valid criticism.
Nonetheless, the HCRC determined that it is essential to conduct a review of Ms. Culhane’s work product that she submitted on behalf of three HCRC clients. This review has included interviewing every witness from whom Ms. Culhane purported to have obtained a declaration in the three cases to which she was assigned. As a result of our investigation, we have determined that numerous witness declarations that Ms. Culhane purported to have obtained were, in fact, not signed by those witnesses. Immediately upon learning of these circumstances, the HCRC notified the California Supreme Court and the Attorney General and withdrew the declarations from the California Supreme Court’s consideration. Throughout this process, the HCRC has cooperated with the state’s investigation, while ensuring that the rights of HCRC clients are protected.
I have never worked with or met this woman in my life. I had also never heard about her before all this fraudulent declaration business went down. I have no doubt that in a really fucking twisted way, she felt she was helping her client. I mean, when the penalty is death, shouldn't it be No Holds Barred and do what you have to do to keep another life from being lost?
You should fight for your client until your eyes and hands bleed and you should always fight within the guidelines of the law. Fabricating declarations/interviews is obviously unethical, at the very least cowardly, and mostly...it could end up costing someone their life.
If Culhane is guilty of what she is accused of doing (I hope none of the allegations are true), it sends our image and cause back into the stone age...one might argue that we're already losing the battle against the death penalty why should this hurt?
Well, when it causes witnesses to think twice about talking to us in the field because they can't trust that we won't twist their stories around, when a member of a jury has it in their head that when we (defense investigators) testify, it's known that we'll do anything (legal or illegal) to get a client off and we can't be believed...you get the idea. It will hurt us all.
This Culhane matter is not going to be the end of us PDI's or PI's. We still have work to do and we still have to keep doing it with as much integrity as possible. When in doubt, talk to your attorney about ethical questions or dilemma's, talk to your Chief Investigator about ethical questions and dilemmas. Consider running some training in your office regarding situations you'll run across in the field, in the office with headstrong attorneys and maybe even situations in which you run across an unethical investigator.
Have a good weekend everyone!