A federal judge in Kansas has dismissed a man’s drug indictment, citing misconduct by a prosecutor who was criticized earlier this year for her handling of case in the 1990s that caused a man to be imprisoned for nearly 23 years for a crime he didn’t commit.
U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson on Tuesday ordered the release of Gregory Orozco on two drug charges. In her order, Robinson said federal prosecutor Terra Morehead, who works in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas, intimidated a witness and belatedly disclosed evidence that could have helped Orozco’s case.
In the 1990s, Morehead was accused of witness intimidation and prosecutorial misconduct when, as Wyandotte County assistant prosecutor, she prosecuted Lamonte McIntyre in a double killing. McIntyre was released from prison in October, when the current Wyandotte County attorney dropped all charges.
Robinson sharply criticized Morehead in her Tuesday order, saying the prosecutor told a witness, Jose Luis Ruiz-Salazar, that she would create complications for him in a drug case in Missouri if Ruiz-Salazar “got in her way” by testifying in the Orozco case. Ruiz-Salazar declined to testify, and Orozco was convicted.
That threat violated Orozco’s right to a fair trial, Robinson wrote in the order. He was released Wednesday morning.
Robinson used what she called the “rarely-invoked remedy” of dismissing the charges with prejudice so that prosecutors could not refile the case. The judge said a new trial would not repair the damage “even if the court was convinced that the government would not further interfere with the defendant’s right to present a defense.”
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Jim Cross said Thursday the office was not able to comment on Robinson’s latest order or the allegations against Morehead.
McIntyre was released from prison as a judge was reviewing his 1994 convictions and life sentences. The case was investigated for seven years by Cheryl Pilate, an attorney in the Kansas City area, and others. They eventually persuaded authorities to reconsider it.
In that case, Pilate wrote in a motion that Morehead forced an eyewitness “to testify falsely by threatening to have her children taken away.” She also said Morehead withheld a statement made to her by a relative of a victim in the case.
Pilate also raised questions about bias because Morehead and the judge who presided over the original trial, J. Dexter Burdette, did not disclose that they had a previous romantic relationship.
The Kansas Supreme Court also cited Morehead’s prosecutorial misconduct in a Wyandotte County trial when it overturned a 2001 murder conviction. The court ruled that Morehead erred in closing arguments by implying that premeditation could be instantaneous, gesturing as if pulling a trigger. “One squeeze of a trigger is all it takes,” she told the jury.