George Gascón (Examiner file photo)George Gascón (Examiner file photo)

Crime lab memo release appealed by San Francisco District Attorney's Office

The District Attorney’s Office is appealing a judge’s ruling ordering it to release a memorandum by a former consultant that reportedly criticized the Police Department’s DNA testing lab.

Three candidates in the race for district attorney — Sharmin Bock, David Onek and Bill Fazio — have seized upon the issue to attack their opponent, District Attorney George Gascón, accusing him of hiding a document that might damage prosecutions by revealing unreliable testing procedures at the lab. Gascón was police chief at the time the memo was written.

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Defense attorneys for James Mayfield — a 65-year-old former Bayview church deacon accused of raping and murdering a young woman during a 1976 burglary — are seeking release of the memo. Mayfield, who has prior convictions for rape and several burglaries, was arrested in 2009 when a DNA hit linked him to the crime.

Prosecutors are legally required to give defense lawyers any potentially exculpatory evidence, which the memo is believed to be.

On Sept. 20, Judge Charles Haines met with memo author Rockne Harmon and then agreed to release the memo to defense attorneys, reversing an earlier decision. The release date was set for today, but the DA’s Office is appealing that ruling, calling the memo confidential attorney “work product.”

“We are seeking clarification on whether any portions are potentially exculpatory material, and if so, we will immediately turn that over to the defense,” office spokesman Omid Talai said of Monday’s appeal.

Such pretrial arguments are standard fare in criminal cases. Indeed, defense attorneys have unsuccessfully sought the memo in other cases. But Gascón’s opponents see a larger issue.

“Justice is supposed to be blind, but our district attorney should not be blinded by politics,” Bock said Monday in a statement. “His decision to appeal Judge Charles Haines’ clear order to disclose it is a mistake that will only make the DNA crime lab crisis even worse.”

The DA’s Office hired Harmon, a former Alameda County prosecutor specializing in DNA cases, in 2010. He was retained in the wake of the SFPD crime lab scandal, when a former drug lab criminalist admitted to stealing cocaine from evidence.

Although the lab wasn’t implicated in the scandal, Harmon reviewed its procedures and his memo was reportedly critical.

Bock is an Alameda County prosecutor who ran that agency’s DNA unit following Harmon’s departure.


Timeline of Jenny Read murder case

May 19, 1976: 29-year-old sculptor Jenny Read found raped and murdered inside her Potrero Hill home
Aug. 3, 2009: Mayfield arrested after DNA found to have linked him to the crime scene
September, 2011: In pretrial hearings, Mayfield’s attorney requests Harmon memo as potential exculpatory evidence

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