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SAN JOSE — The Santa Clara district attorney’s office should have waited for lab results and been more critical of initial police work in two sex cases where suspects were charged and then freed after DNA evidence cleared them, an internal investigation concluded. But prosecutors acted appropriately when they charged a third rape suspect and then dropped the charges when the DNA did not match up, a summary of the investigation concludes. Santa Clara DA George Kennedy released the summary this week outlining the series of events leading to the trio of charging errors in 2002. The summary includes some armchair quarterbacking by Kennedy and a list of safeguards the office is employing to prevent future mistakes. “We’ve changed some of our procedures. We have changed our person in charge of these cases,” Kennedy said in an interview. “We are ever vigilant in preventing innocent people from coming into or remaining in the system.” The trio of botched sex cases — two rapes and a child molestation alleged at a Palo Alto day care facility — had defense attorneys and Santa Clara University School of Law’s Northern California Innocence Project taking aim at the prosecutor’s office. Kennedy admitted at the time that mistakes had been made but insisted his office approached charging decisions cautiously, and he promised an investigation. In the summary, Kennedy said in one of the rape cases Supervising Deputy DA Victoria Brown acted appropriately. But with the benefit of hindsight, it appeared now retired Assistant DA David Davies was too quick to charge the other two suspects. Still, Kennedy said Davies operated well within legal standards. Davies, who supervised the DA’s homicide and sex crime teams, retired in December. Efforts to reach him by telephone were unsuccessful, and he didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment. In the molestation case, Palo Alto preschool teacher David Carlson, 35, was arrested and charged in February after a 4-year-old student told his mother he had been molested. A preliminary test revealed that the child had semen on his forehead, according to Kennedy’s summary. Davies sought and obtained a warrant for the suspect’s arrest, who was later released when lab results determined the substance found on the child was not semen. The charges were eventually dropped. “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish Dave had waited for lab results before participating in obtaining the warrant for arrest. I think the police and the suspect’s employer could have reasonably protected children if he had remained out of custody and uncharged while the lab work was being completed,” Kennedy wrote in his summary. “The defendant has not made a motion for a finding of factual innocence.” In the second case, Davies charged a San Jose man with attempted murder after his mother was found naked and critically injured in a dumpster outside her apartment building in May. In the summary, Kennedy wrote that San Jose police detectives presented a theory that the suspect, An Vinh Nguyen, 31, who lied to detectives about living with his mother and who had a history of violence, had attacked his mother and then staged a rape to cover up the true motive. The public defender waived the 10-day statutory time limit for a judge to hold a hearing to determine if evidence was sufficient to proceed with the case, Kennedy wrote. Prosecutors learned after the arrest that there was evidence a rape had in fact occurred. They also discovered that key evidence had not been turned over for lab analysis and remained at the police station. Three months after the crime, the suspect was exonerated based on DNA evidence. “I wish the detective who presented the case to Dave had been more scrupulous with follow-up work. I wish there had been tighter oversight of him at the police department, ” Kennedy wrote. “ I wish Dave had caused more redundancy in that oversight.” In the third case, 18-year-old Jorge Hernandez was charged with raping a 94-year-old woman in her retirement home. Hernandez remained in jail for three weeks before DNA analysis showed that a hair from the crime scene was not his. Brown, who heads the DA’s sex unit, made the decision to charge. “The evidence presented to Vickie before she authorized the complaint was that the suspect made admissions, had unique knowledge of the rape scene as if he had been there, and the suspect’s brother’s ring was left at the scene,” Kennedy wrote. “Vickie worked appropriately. She is still on the case for me.” Kennedy said that to prevent future mistakes, he’s appointed Assistant DA Karyn Sinunu to supervise the sexual assault and homicide teams. The DA said he’s also pushed law enforcement to adopt stricter suspect line-up protocols to prevent false eyewitness identifications. The DA, who also oversees the county’s crime lab, has agreed to run DNA analysis free of charge for any suspect in the county who believes he has been wrongly accused to shorten “lengthy and time-consuming court procedures.” Kennedy said his office will also agree to send samples of evidence to an independent accredited lab at the defense’s request. “I am advocating at our county chiefs’ association for adoption countywide of an improved child-witness interview protocol,” Kennedy wrote in the summary. “I am proud of my lab and my sex team and grateful to Dave for his contributions to them,” Kennedy concluded. “We improved existing procedure and continue to work toward protecting the rights of accused persons.”

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