The attorney for the man convicted last week of the 2012 murder of April Kauffman said she’s “disappointed and discouraged” by allegations of misconduct by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office in the case.
“Their authority is undermined by their failure to deal plainly and squarely with issues in the Augello prosecution and in their house,” Mary Linehan, defense attorney for Ferdinand “Freddy” Augello, wrote in an email Tuesday. Linehan said she’d already filed a motion for a retrial before learning of the allegations.
Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Donna Weaver declined to comment further Tuesday. On Monday, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said “the matters alleged involved personnel issues with disgruntled former employees and current employees.”
Two former and one current employee of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office have accused …
Last week, three current and former employees of the Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office asking for an investigation into several claims against Tyner, including withholding of possibly exculpatory evidence in the Kauffman case for his personal gain.
The complaint, filed by former acting Prosecutor Diane Ruberton, former Lt. Heath McManus and current Chief Assistant Prosecutor Donna Fetzer, alleges Tyner was made aware multiple times of possible inappropriate actions by detectives working on the case, but did not investigate them.
The complaint also claims the failure to investigate in turn led to a failure to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence in the case, also known as Brady material.
Augello was found guilty by a 12-member jury Oct. 2 of the murder of April Kauffman, conspiracy to murder James Kauffman and leading a drug ring out of James Kauffman’s medical practice.
Linehan said the motion for a new trial will be heard in court Dec. 5, the same day Augello is slated to be sentenced.
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“This adds meat to the bone,” she said of the complaint.
Asked whether the complaint will throw into jeopardy the state’s recent conviction, experts say there isn’t enough information to know at this point.
“If I was the defense lawyer in the Kauffman trial, my ears are going to be perked up and I’m going to be looking at this,” said longtime defense attorney Rocco C. Cipparone Jr.
Cipparone said “Brady material” references the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brady vs. Maryland that established that prosecutors have an obligation to disclose to the defense evidence that could exonerate the defendant.
He said examples include directly exculpatory evidence as well as material that could impeach a key witness’ testimony.
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The complaint claims the “serious transgressions” were ignored by Tyner and his office so as to not damage the prosecution of the case, including not conducting internal affairs investigations on law-enforcement officials involved in the case who may have acted improperly.
J.C. Lore, a clinical professor of law at Rutgers Law School in Camden, said the allegations could pose a problem for the prosecutor.
“In short, it is hard to understand the importance of the evidence without knowing the details of the evidence,” Lore said, citing the Brady rules.
Lore said to prove a Brady violation, the defense in this case would need to prove the information was exculpatory and material, and that the outcome of the trial would likely have been different if the information would have been disclosed.
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Defense attorney Lloyd Levenson, a former Atlantic County chief assistant prosecutor, said the Prosecutor’s Office has broad discretion in deciding when to initiate an internal investigation.
“Alleged failure to conduct an investigation does not in any way seem to rise to the level of failing to turn over exculpatory information,” Levenson said. “The prosecution has a job to do and makes decisions hourly on how to utilize the office’s resources.”
Cipparone said he sees enough in the complaint to warrant a deeper look by the Attorney General’s Office, but no “smoking gun.”
“There are enough allegations in there that I think somebody is at least going to assess the complaint,” he said. “And I think there’s an obligation to do it.”