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LOS ANGELES — Tempers flared Friday during California Supreme Court oral arguments in a case questioning whether Los Angeles County prosecutors concealed evidence favorable to a man convicted of killing a baby. San Francisco attorney Gail Harper, representing the defendant, got the ball rolling. Immediately after stepping to the lectern she accused prosecutors of putting together a case out of “smoke and mirrors” and suppressing evidence she felt could have been used to impeach an expert witness. “The culprits here are the district attorney’s office and the attorney general’s office,” she argued, seconds after pointing at her opponent, L.A.-based Deputy AG Michael Wise, and saying he was “involved in” the suppression efforts. “Don’t let them get away with it,” she summed up. On rebuttal, Wise accused Harper of engaging in “blatant lies” and advised the court to rely on neither his nor Harper’s briefs or even the appellate decision, which he said contained 32 identifiable errors. “Go to the record,” he stressed. “The truth lies in the record of this case.” The court usually frowns on such blunt and personal attacks, but on Friday the justices kept quiet. They also gave no hint about which way they will rule in a case that the AG’s office claimed in briefs could place an “onerous and impractical burden” on prosecutors statewide. The case involves expert testimony that was used to convict Jose Salazar of assault and second-degree murder in the 1996 death of 11-month-old Adrianna Krygoski. Doctors found that the Northridge infant had died of Shaken Baby Syndrome and massive skull fractures. Salazar and the baby were alone at the time of her injuries, so much of the prosecution’s case relied on the expert testimony of doctors and other medical officials who examined the child both before she died and afterward. One of those was Dr. James Ribe, a deputy coroner for Los Angeles County, who testified to the estimated time that the child would have suffered her injuries based on their severity and when she died. Based partly on Ribe’s testimony, prosecutors argued that the injuries had to occur when Salazar was with the girl. Midway through trial, however, defense attorneys learned that prosecutors had a large file showing that Ribe had flip-flopped on his medical evaluations several times in the past, most importantly in another shaken baby case in which similar incriminating timeline estimates resulted in the mother’s conviction. In that case, Ribe, who had initially implicated the mother for the death, later changed his mind. The case was reopened, the mother was freed, and the investigation turned to the child’s father. Relying on that case and others, L.A.’s Second District Court of Appeal in 2003 vacated Salazar’s conviction after finding that the DA’s office had withheld favorable evidence in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83. On Friday, Harper and Ventura attorney Michael McMahon, who represents the California Public Defenders Association as amicus curiae, argued that prosecutors should have disclosed past instances where Dr. Ribe had changed his mind. “They were concerned in their own ranks,” McMahon said of the Los Angeles DA’s office, noting that prosecutors now possess 15 boxes of material about Ribe. “It doesn’t impeach [Ribe's] honesty,” McMahon said. “It impeaches the weight you give to his opinions.” Deputy AG Wise argued that the information about Ribe wasn’t material evidence to the prosecution, and, therefore, not required to be released under Brady. “It has to be related in some way to the facts of the case,” he argued, adding that Ribe’s testimony wasn’t critical to the conviction. The baby’s cranium was crushed, he said, and there were several other clues that Salazar’s alibi was a lie. “There is overwhelming evidence that the defendant committed the crime in this case,” Wise said. He also argued that the lower court ruling puts expert witnesses in a “no-win situation.” If they change their minds, they could be viewed as incompetent, he said, but if they don’t, they could be branded as nothing but shills for the state. The justices asked very few questions Friday, giving Harper plenty of time to bash the prosecution. She said it was “ludicrous” for prosecutors to contend that Ribe’s past wasn’t material to the case and accused them of “playing hide the ball.” “The whole game seemed to be, ‘Dig in your heels. Don’t give out any information.’” Jurors needed to hear about Ribe’s flip-flops, she argued, “because it goes toward credibility in my case.” The case is People v. Salazar, S119066. A ruling is expected within 90 days.

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