In a rare decision, a federal appeals court overturned the death penalty for a man convicted in 1988 of killing and robbing two people in Fresno. The court said that prosecutors had knowingly given false testimony by a key witness.
The Ninth U.S. In its ruling on Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Colin Dickey’s robbery sentence and stated that prosecutors can decide whether or not to retry Dickey for murder. Dickey is still in prison.
The court, in an ruling that overturned Dickey’s death sentence in 1991, said: “This is a case of exceptionality in which the prosecutor intentionally elicited false and misleading testimonies from the State’s star witness, and then failed correct them.”
The Fresno County Prosecutor obtained the testimony of Gene Buchanan. Buchanan told the jury that he did not meet with prosecutors and had not accepted any benefits. The court ruled that they met 12 times over the course of the investigation. They also dismissed the drug charges against Buchanan and helped him receive a $5,000 reward by implicating Dickey.
Dickey has been convicted of murdering two neighbors Marie Caton and Louis Freiri. The pair were killed in November 1988 in Fresno at Caton’s house, where Freiri lived as a boarder.
Dickey, Buchanan, and Richard Cullumber lived together with Caton’s grandson Richard Cullumber. According to witnesses, Cullumber was a drug addict who often asked Caton for money. Cullumber, according to the court, fled the police five days after the assault in a car. He claimed he “killed” a woman, was cornered following a high speed chase, and then shot himself.
Dickey told another roommate that he went to Caton’s home with Cullumber in order to get money, but was not involved with the murders. Buchanan, however, testified Dickey had told him that he was on the scene of the attack . He saw Freiri with his head slouched, and thought that “if you’re going to kill one, you might as well murder them both.”
The judge said that Buchanan’s testimony was “the centerpiece of the State’s Case” without his dubious statement, the “state’s case against Dickey” would have been weak and lacking any direct evidence to prove intent to murder, Morgan Christen stated in her 3-0 decision.