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The Sixth District Court of Appeal has put a new crimp in prosecutor Lane Liroff’s marathon attempt to try Santa Clara County’s first death penalty case in years. On Wednesday, the San Jose-based court ruled unanimously (.pdf) to reopen mental retardation hearings for accused cop-killer DeShawn Campbell, a decision sure to prolong proceedings that have lasted nearly six years. The court found there was “clearly good cause” to hold new retardation hearings, given that a prosecution witness at last year’s hearings had since come forward to say that, in his testimony, he had mistaken Campbell for another person. Liroff had argued that the witness’ testimony was not central to the trial court’s eventual finding that Campbell was not retarded � and was therefore eligible for the death penalty. But in Wednesday’s opinion, Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian wrote: “We need not determine whether or not any false testimony was ‘pivotal.’” Liroff said he was disappointed with the court’s ruling but expects the reopened hearing, again before Superior Court Judge Diane Northway, to play out as it did the first time. “I don’t think it will make a difference because the opinion of Judge Northway was very clear that the defense had failed to meet its burden,” he said. The witness, Donald Connors, was a former high school teacher who said he had been a mentor for Campbell years ago. A few months later, in October, he said he had confused Campbell with another boy named DeShawn. Connors had testified that Campbell possessed normal intelligence. The testimony was not “terribly important,” and Northway’s original ruling barely mentioned it, Liroff said. Campbell’s attorney, San Jose solo Edward Sousa, said he was extremely pleased with Wednesday’s ruling, and called the testimony essential to Northway’s opinion. “She cited Mr. Connors in her opinion,” he said. “I say it is pivotal and that it is material to her decision.” Northway did refer to the witness’ testimony in her August ruling, though she did not name him. Prosecutors allege Campbell shot and killed San Jose police officer Jeffrey Fontana in October 2001 during a routine traffic stop. Campbell, now in his late 20s, was formally charged in early 2002. The U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of the mentally retarded in 2002. The following year, the California Legislature drafted a new law defining mental retardation and setting protocols for pretrial and post-conviction hearings in death penalty cases. At the upcoming hearings, Northway must now determine whether false evidence was presented, strike any false testimony and then allow both parties to present new evidence, according to Bamattre-Manoukian’s order. The reopening of the hearing gives both sides the chance to introduce new evidence, and Sousa said he plans to present new testimony.

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