A Hennepin County judge has ordered a new trial for a man convicted of attempted murder, citing ineffective representation by his trial attorney and mistakes by the public defender who handled the appeal.
James Lamar Davis, 32, who was serving a 28-year prison sentence, was transferred to the Hennepin County jail and is expected to be released. His next scheduled court appearance is March 19.
In a 142-page ruling, Judge Paul Scoggin offered a scathing evaluation of Minneapolis attorney Michael Padden, concluding that if he had properly represented Davis, a jury would have most likely found him not guilty.
Scoggin also faulted the work of Sara Euteneuer of the Minnesota state appellate defender’s office, who he said had failed to address the key mistakes Padden made during the trial in her appeal. Had she done so, Scoggin said, the Minnesota Court of Appeals would have likely vacated the conviction.
While Scoggin found that Davis was a victim of an “ineffective” representation at trial and on appeal, he cautioned that “nothing in the court’s order and memorandum opinion shall be construed as constituting an exoneration of Davis.”
“Had trial counsel performed during Davis’ trial up to the standard of reasonably competent criminal defense counsel, the state, whose case against Davis was ‘thin,’ would have been left with almost no case.” he wrote. “Had appellate counsel performed up to an objective standard of reasonableness for appeal counsel, Davis’ conviction and sentence should have been vacated and remanded for a new trial due to trial counsel’s ineffectiveness” as well as the state failure to provide sufficient evidence, he continued.
Scoggin’s opinion followed an appeal brought by attorneys Julie Jonas, Jon Hopeman and James Mayer of the Innocence Project of Minnesota.
Jonas, legal director of the Innocence Project, declined to comment Thursday, pending final outcome of the legal proceedings.
In a statement, Thursday, Padden wrote, “I am happy that James [Davis] is getting a new trial. He is innocent. In his trial, we not only proved he was not guilty, we proved he was innocent.”
State Public Defender William Ward said he had not yet read the ruling and could not comment.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s office said Thursday that “the court did not attribute the need for a new trial based on the actions of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, but rather on the performances of Davis’ respective attorneys.”
The case involved a shooting outside Target Field in the early morning hours of April 12, 2014.
Kibbie Walker and Cortez Blakemore had just completed their work shift at Target Field and were leaving when they encountered three men wearing hooded sweatshirts.
One of the three drew a revolver and fired several shots. Walker was struck in the chest, receiving superficial wounds, while Blakemore was struck in the spine, resulting in permanent paralysis that confined him to a wheelchair.
According to prosecutors, Walker and Davis were in rival gangs involved in a number of shootings. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Walker first told an investigator he was unable to identify any of the assailants other than that the three men were black, and one was “short” and another “chubby.”
After he was released from the hospital two days later, he named Davis, who he described as “J Weezy,” as the shooter. Davis and Justin McGee were charged but prosecutors dismissed charges against McGee in October 2014.
At the trial in 2015, Walker, who has since died in a separate shooting, took the stand, acknowledged he had previously identified Davis as the shooter, but recanted the identification because he said he was not sure Davis shot him and he did not want to send an innocent man to prison.
The prosecution introduced the video of Walker telling police he had named Davis.
Scoggin said that Padden should have objected to the introduction of the video because it “included voluminous amounts of inadmissible and highly prejudicial other statements.”
While Scoggin did not criticize police for how they conducted their interview, “No objectively reasonable defense strategy supported its admission” at the trial, Scoggin wrote.
Also introduced as evidence was testimony of a police officer about a shooting in 2010 at Bde Maka Ska in which Davis was not charged, but a police officer testified that Davis was involved. Padden did not object to the introduction of that evidence either or ask the trial judge, Fred Karasov, to strike it, Scoggin wrote.
Padden also failed to call two individuals he had on the witness list who could have provided a key defense for Davis, Scoggin wrote. One them, A’laiena Charlton, who had a child by Davis, supplied a posttrial affidavitt that McGee, who testified against Davis at the trial, had told her he would “say anything” to avoid going back to jail.
Padden also did not call another woman to testify, Arnecia Coleman, who had said that when she asked McGee why he would falsely implicate Davis, McGee responded, “A lie is what got us into this, right, so I don’t give a [expletive]. ... Weezy not my friend.”
Davis was convicted of two counts of attempted intentional second-degree murder for the benefit of a gang and sentenced to 339 months in prison.
Two days after the conviction, Padden moved for acquittal and a new trial, citing, among other things, the Coleman and Charlton affidavits.
Karasov denied the motion and noted that Padden had both of them on his witness list but did not call them.
Karasov oversaw the post-trial hearings but suffered a heart attack and Scoggin stepped in to review the testimony and issue the decision.
The prosecution’s ability to get other alleged bad acts, known as Spreigl evidence, by Davis introduced at the trial led Padden to acknowledge that he made a mistake during post-trial appeals. “I think I blew it on that issue,” he is quoted as saying in Scoggin’s memorandum. “I was negligent, sir. I was negligent.”
“It is important to note that Judge Scoggin was not the trial judge,” Padden said in his statement Thursday. “The Davis case illustrates the evil of Spreigl evidence.”