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Starr issues statement on alleged forgeries in clemency case

By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service

February 14, 2006

Law school dean and former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who is seeking clemency for a condemned inmate, said today he is treating allegations of forged documents "with utmost seriousness," but said the central issue is the prisoner's plea for mercy.

Starr, dean of Pepperdine University Law School in Malibu, last month joined lawyers seeking clemency from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for Michael Morales, who is scheduled to be executed on Feb. 21 for the murder of a 17-year-old Lodi girl in 1981.

On Monday, in the wake of prosecutors' allegations of forgery, the defense attorneys announced they are withdrawing five purported jury declarations and other documents prepared by defense investigator Kathleen Culhane.

The allegedly forged documents included purported statements from five trial jurors supposedly supporting clemency and from one witness supposedly recanting her testimony.

Starr said, "It would be profoundly unjust for the wrongdoing - if there was wrongdoing - on the part of a single investigator to compromise,

much less jeopardize, the plea for mercy." Starr said, "We are taking the allegations of falsity with utmost seriousness and will continue to do so."

Starr said defense attorneys are investigating the allegations but said they urge the governor to continue to focus on what Starr called a "compelling case for clemency."

Starr said that when he joined the clemency team, "I became convinced - and still am - that Michael Morales, having accepted responsibility for his crime that tragically took the life of Terri Winchell, deserves a life sentence without parole in order to achieve justice."

The clemency attorneys also contend that Morales was unjustly given a death sentence in his 1983 trial on the basis of allegedly false testimony by a jailhouse informant who was a key prosecution witness.

Starr's statement was his first comment on the forgery allegations.

He was out of town on Friday when San Joaquin County prosecutors charged that the jury declarations were forged and on Monday when the defense attorneys announced they were withdrawing the disputed documents from the clemency petition and from an appeal in the state Supreme Court.

Starr, 59, formerly served as a federal appeals court judge, as U.S. solicitor general and as the independent counsel whose investigation led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.

Prosecutors have argued in papers submitted to the governor and the state high court that Morales deserves the death penalty because his murder and rape of Winchell were brutal and because the defense claims have been repeatedly rejected by state and federal courts.

Prosecutors and state attorneys also contend the alleged forgeries undercut the credibility of the defense attorneys.

Supervising Deputy California Attorney General Keith Borjon told the state Supreme Court in a brief on Sunday, "With just one week to go before the execution, this court has no way of knowing how many of the other declarations and exhibits are forgeries.

"There can be no defense of inadvertence or mistake, and the calculated intent to deceive is unmistakable," Borjon charged in the brief.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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