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Witness lies force prosecutors to drop Virginia murder case

A prosecutor's case is only as solid as the evidence of a crime or the truthful testimony of witnesses. There's a reason people swear to tell the truth. If they're lying during a deposition or to a jury, a Newport News defendant does not receive a fair trial.

A Virginia man was preparing to go to trial on extremely serious charges. Prosecutors alleged the man took part in the robbery and murder of an off-duty police officer in Norfolk. The defendant had been in jail nearly a year and a half for the 2010 killing and was set for trial this month.

The defendant had been jailed since October 2012 after the officer's body was discovered along a roadside. The 25-year-old man maintained authorities had the wrong man. An alleged accomplice, already imprisoned for unrelated crimes, is scheduled to be tried this fall, with prosecutors pushing for a death sentence.

Just before the defendant's trial started, prosecutors made a startling revelation and the case was dropped. The Commonwealth was forced to forfeit because at least one witness committed perjury. The testimony was the heart of the prosecutors' argument; little other evidence connected the defendant to the crime.

Prosecutors admitted the case folded when it was found out an imprisoned witness's statements were nothing more than an attempt to get a lighter sentence. The defendant was freed. The father of two held his children for the first time since his incarceration and celebrated by going out for a meal with his family.

Defendants sometimes feel the deck is stacked against them before ever reaching trial. It's sometimes hard to remember laws were created to protect defendants' rights as much as they were to convict and punish criminals. Criminal defense attorneys don't give up on cases, even when clients despair. It's not because lawyers are cheerleaders -- they know laws can work in a defendant's favor.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot, "Charges dropped in killing of Norfolk officer in Beach" Elisabeth Hulette, Mar. 18, 2014

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