District Attorney Kamala Harris is deciding whether to retry a murder case or appeal a judge’s decision Tuesday that would free a man who spent 18 years behind bars in a murder case in which investigators allegedly secretly paid the key witness.
Caramad Conley, 40, was convicted in 1995 for a double homicide in the Bayview district. The conviction relied heavily on the testimony of a man named Clifford Polk, who has since died.
Polk had been accepting thousands of dollars from a witness-protection program, along with personal payments from one of the investigators, former police Chief Earl Sanders, according to Conley’s attorney, Daniel Purcell.
Those payments were never disclosed to Conley’s defense attorneys during the initial trial, which is required under the constitution. Polk also lied on the stand when asked about those payments, Purcell said.
On Tuesday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Marla Miller said Conley was denied a fair trial. Prosecutors are reviewing the decision and could either retry the case without the key witness or appeal Miller’s decision, according to district attorney spokesman Seth Steward.
Purcell said he does not know how prosecutors can retry Conley without their star witness.
“What they said before the case is that they couldn’t even try this case without his testimony,” Purcell said.
The case is not the first murder conviction to be overturned involving Sanders and his partner, Napoleon Hendrix. In 2003, John Tennison and Antoine Goff were released after a federal court found Sanders and Hendrix had withheld evidence in their murder trial. In 2009, The City paid a $7.5 million settlement for the wrongful convictions.
That case is what spurred an appeal of Conley’s conviction, according to Purcell. While gathering evidence in the Tennison case, attorneys came across an unmarked box of files “buried in debris.”
Though former District Attorney Terence Hallinan promised a full review of the cases of Sanders and Hendrix, no other instances of misconduct were ever made public.
“This is certainly something that somebody ought to look at,” Purcell said. “You can’t have this kind of obvious and blatant misconduct and just ignore it.”
Police would not comment on the case, and The San Francisco Examiner was unable to contact Sanders.
Conley has yet to be told that he may soon be released, Purcell said.