Kern County prosecutor Robert Alan Murray, who falsified a defendant's confession in what he described as a joke, faces a potential one-year suspension of his law license.
In its Nov. 10 opinion, the State Bar Court Review Department recommended increasing Murray's suspension from 30 days to an entire year. The suspension would go into effect once approved by the state Supreme Court.
“Murray’s behavior is wholly inappropriate and unbecoming of an experienced prosecutor, who is expected to adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct and to act as a gatekeeper to the fair administration of justice,” State Bar Court Judge Richard A. Honn wrote.
Under the recommendation, Murray would be placed on probation for two years and complete the State Bar's Ethics School as well as all probation requirements.
Murray remains employed as a deputy district attorney in Kern County, District Attorney Lisa Green said Thursday. She said it's her understanding there could potentially be another appeal, and that Murray's job status would be evaluated after a final decision is reached.
Murray's actions resulted in the dismissal of criminal charges against Efrain Velasco-Palacios in December 2013. The defendant had been charged with five counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years old.
The prosecutor placed a fabricated admission of guilt into an English translation of Velasco-Palacios' Spanish-language interrogation.
Specifically, Murray wrote the following into the transcript:
"[Officer]: You're so guilty you child molester.
"[Suspect]: I know. I'm just glad she's not pregnant like her mother."
During earlier hearings in that case, Murray said he'd be willing to accept an eight-year prison term for Velasco-Palacios. The defendant refused to accept that offer.
Murray then told Deputy Public Defender Ernest Hinman, Velasco-Palacios' attorney, that he was considering dismissing the charges and refiling them to allege penetrative acts, which carried a possible life sentence, according to court filings. Murray said if the charges were refiled he would likely refuse any plea offers from the defendant.
Upon reviewing the case, however, Murray was unable to find evidence supporting charges alleging penetrative acts, the filings say. That same day, Murray provided Hinman with the falsified transcript.
Hinman questioned Velasco-Palacios about the confession, and the defendant denied making the statements.
Hinman emailed Murray requesting the prosecution's audio recording of the interrogation. Murray did not respond.
Later the same day, the filings say, Hinman spoke to Murray in person about the email and Murray admitted to falsifying the transcript. A Kern County judge dismissed the charges against Velasco-Palacios after Hinman reported what had happened.
In December, a State Bar of California judge recommended a 30-day suspension and one-year probation period for Murray after finding him culpable of an act of moral turpitude.
But the State Bar Court Review Department found that punishment insufficient, and determined a year's suspension is necessary to send the message that Murray's actions are unacceptable. It rejected Murray's explanation that the fabrication was intended as a joke.
"Due to Murray's intentional misconduct, the victim did not get her day in court," the court review department opinion states. "Moreover, Murray's actions directly interfered with (defendant's) attorney-client relationship, causing Palacios to lose trust in his attorney."
The opinion states, "Such egregious misconduct by a prosecutor violates basic notions of ethics, integrity, and fairness upon which the legal profession is built, it erodes confidence in law enforcement and the criminal justice system, and it puts the public at risk."
Velasco-Palacios is currently serving a prison term of four years and four months after pleading no contest to committing sex acts with a new victim.