A Suffolk judge has sanctioned the prosecution in a rape-murder case for failing to disclose evidence to the defense as required by law.
The action by state Supreme Court Justice John Collins is the latest blow to the case against Dante Taylor, 20, a Mastic man accused of raping and stabbing Sarah Goode, 21, of Medford, 42 times on June 7, 2014.
The defense accused prosecutors of withholding evidence favorable to the defense, in violation of what is known as the Brady rule.
In a ruling last week, Collins identified five Brady rule violations, ordered a hearing on why a lake and a pond were searched 15 months after Goode was killed and said he may instruct the jury that hears the case that Taylor’s rights were compromised by prosecutors’ actions. As a result, the judge will alow some defense-friendly evidence at trial that normally would be inadmissible.
Separately, defense attorney John Lewis Jr. of Farmingdale filed a notice of claim indicating he will sue the district attorney’s office and its spokesman, Robert Clifford, claiming slander and libel. Both prosecutors and Clifford have said in court papers and to Newsday that Lewis has made “repeated false accusations” about prosecutors withholding evidence. The notice of claim says Lewis will seek $5 million in damages.
“This office is aware of the decision by Justice Collins and will comply with its terms,” Clifford said in a statement. “We remain confident that the overwhelming evidence in this case will result in the defendant’s conviction for the brutal rape and murder of Sarah Goode.”
Lewis said the judge’s decision provides a legal lesson the district attorney’s office has not yet learned.
“From the very beginning, they violated my client’s constitutional rights, and they continue to do so,” Lewis said.
Collins ruled that prosecutors should have turned over to the defense a series of Crime Stoppers tips that suggest people other than Taylor had something to do with Goode’s death.
One set of tips concerned a former boyfriend. Goode had called 911 four days before her death to say the ex-boyfriend’s mother had threatened to kill her. Also, that the ex-boyfriend was absent from work after her death.
Another set of tips said a different man had posted on Facebook that Goode was at his home the night she disappeared and also posted pictures of bloody knuckles.
A third tip pointed to another ex-boyfriend of Goode’s and said his new girlfriend had a history of problems with Goode.
A fourth set of tips said two men at Hunter Business School, which Goode attended, were overheard discussing that Goode’s body was on East Bartlett Road in Middle Island. Her body was later found in woods in Medford.
Collins also ruled that prosecutors should have turned over a threatening 17-second voice mail from the boyfriend in the first set of tips. That message wasn’t preserved by police and is no longer available.
As a sanction, Collins said the defense will be allowed to introduce the tips as evidence at trial, even though they would normally be inadmissible hearsay.
Collins also ordered prosecutors at a hearing to have police explain why they searched a pond on East Bartlett Road and nearby Spring Lake several times in September 2015.
Lewis said he would have liked Collins to have found further Brady rule violations and issued harsher sanctions — such as dismissing the indictment entirely — but concluded that “the remedies he adopted were fair and just.”
Lewis said he filed the notice of claim to prevent prosecutors from resorting to intimidation.
“You cannot do a character assassination on a defense lawyer for doing his job,” Lewis said. “They can’t get away with that. . . . You don’t make it personal.”
Clifford said in his statement: “Mr. Lewis’ lawsuit is without merit. It represents nothing more than an attempt to deflect the focus of the case away from his client, indicted rapist and murderer Dante Taylor.”