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Judge grants new trial to ex-federal jail lieutenant, but 5 convictions stand

A Brooklyn U.S. District judge let stand Carlos

A Brooklyn U.S. District judge let stand Carlos Martinez's convictions on five counts of sexual abuse of a ward. Credit: USDOJ

A former federal jail lieutenant at the Metropolitan Detention Center convicted last year of coerced sex assaults on a female inmate has won a new trial because federal prosecutors in Brooklyn failed to turn over to the defense potentially exculpatory evidence suggesting the alleged victim may have consented.

Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Edward Korman erased the most serious convictions of Carlos Martinez, the ex-lieutenant, because he found prosecutors withheld a statement from another inmate, known as "Jane Doe 4," that could have led jurors to question the claims of the victim, referred to as "Maria" at trial.

"This new testimony cuts to the very core of the prosecution's approach," Korman wrote in the decision. " … Jane Doe's testimony may not inexorably lead to an acquittal. … But even if the suppressed evidence does not mandate an acquittal, it raises a reasonable probability of a different outcome."

Martinez, 49, of Brooklyn, was one of three MDC officers charged separately in 2017 with sexually abusing female inmates. He was a trainer of other officers under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), and had posted a Facebook picture with the caption, "It's only PREA when you don't like it."

The trial included cringe-inducing testimony from "Maria," a 31-year-old Dominican woman, about how the ex-Marine had her clean offices in a secluded section of the jail, repeatedly forced her to give him oral sex and raped her, and told her the sex was safe because he had a vasectomy but later smuggled a morning-after pill to her.

Martinez was convicted on five counts each of aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse and deprivations of civil rights, all of which Korman erased. The judge let stand convictions of five counts of sexual abuse of a ward, because that crime was based on "Maria's" status as an inmate instead of lack of consent.

Never sentenced, he had faced up to life in prison, but now faces a 15-year maximum on each of the remaining counts of conviction. Korman, who issued his decision in late June, has not yet scheduled a retrial or sentencing. Martinez, according to court records, has been in custody since his 2017 arrest.

According to Korman's decision, after Martinez's conviction in January 2018, "Jane Doe 4” — a unit-mate of "Maria" who had not been called to testify — appeared as a prosecution witness in the trial of another MDC officer accused of sexual misconduct, leading defense lawyers for Martinez to ask if there were any reports of interviews with her that they should have received.

One of the prosecutors in the case, Korman wrote, said she had "inadvertently" failed to turn over a report of an interview in which Jane Doe 4 said "Maria" told her on one occasion that she had a "relationship" with Martinez, and she "volunteered" to clean alone "because of her relationship" with him.

Under federal law, prosecutors are required to turn over to the defense evidence favorable to the accused. When such evidence is suppressed, the judge said, a new trial is required if it prejudiced the defendant's ability to defend himself. He did not identify which of the trial prosecutors — Nicole Argentieri and Nadia Shihata — was responsible for the error.

Korman said that on 15 counts, prosecutors had to prove sex occurred due to force, threats or fear, and knowledge of the withheld interview with Jane Doe 4 could have helped defense lawyers attack the credibility of Maria's claims that the sexual encounters were involuntary.

"The thrust of Jane Doe's statements is that Maria had a consensual relationship with Martinez," the judge wrote, adding that "contradictory evidence can destroy a jury's confidence in a witness's story."

Defense filings in the case expressed dismay about the failure to disclose Jane Doe 4's statements, noting that the lead prosecutor — Shihata — personally attended the April 2017, interview with Jane Doe 4, and saying it was "not difficult to conclude" that the reason she was not called as a witness, unlike other fellow inmates, was that she provided a contradictory version.

Defense lawyer Anthony Ricco did not return a call for comment. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue declined to comment on the ruling.

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