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Shawna Forde’s Appeal
No Rights Violator Left Behind!

In a thorough appeal filed 2-9-12, Shawna Forde’s attorneys have found serious faults with the judge, the prosecutor, and her court-appointed defense attorneys.  Their actions were erroneous, devoid of legal ethics, and largely unconstitutional, denying the defendant due process.  Just as the Committee for Justice for Shawna Forde predicted, “the fix was in,” and Pima County’s railroading of her culminated in glaring, obvious violations of her rights before and during her trial.

An oft-repeated phrase in her appeal was “the court violated Ms. Forde’s constitutional rights to due process, a fair trial, and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment,” followed by the specific violation, citing 40 different assaults on her rights.  The opening brief shocks the senses of any person who believes in our justice system.  In 237 stunning pages the lawyers of the Arizona Capital Representation Project find Judge John Leonardo, Prosecutors Rick Unklesby and Kellie Johnson, and Defense Attorneys Eric Larsen and Jill Thorpe guilty, guilty, guilty!

“The errors which infected the proceedings included the violation of Ms. Forde’s right to be present at critical stages, the prosecutor’s misconduct, and the court’s faulty jury instructions at every stage.  Based on the violations throughout this brief, and the record in this case as a whole, this Court should vacate the convictions and sentences and order a new trial.”

The Arizona Capital Representation Project’s mission is “ to improve the quality of representation afforded to capital defendants in Arizona,” and it openly advocates for abolition of the death penalty.  It is no surprise that the wording in their opening brief included constant repetition of the phrase “to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.”  There can be no doubt that they consider the death penalty to be “cruel and unusual punishment.”  I wonder why only liberal lawyers seem to care about the intent of the eight amendment?  Are conservatives afraid that if they appear to want everyone to be treated fairly that they will lose their “tough on crime” stance?

Prosecutors typically like death penalty trials; they are showy, and if they win, they can be a swift ticket to political office.  With currently 97% of all felonies being plea-bargained, they don’t have much opportunity these days to strut their stuff in the courtroom.

Among the accusations in the appeal brief are:  government destruction of exculpatory evidence, illegal testimony by one witness for another witness, obstruction of justice by not allowing the defense memory expert to testify about how a survivor might suffer impaired memory, improper jury instructions by the judge throughout the trial, victim’s rights overriding due process, and continuous violation of the rules of evidence.  Judge Leonardo refused to grant any motions by the defense for a change of venue or a continuance, even though adverse publicity and mass murders in Tucson just as trial was beginning obviously tainted the jury pool. 

Among other outrageous violations of the defendant’s rights were:  denial of a motion to continue in order to investigate exculpatory evidence; allowing perjured eyewitness testimony; denial of constitutional voir dire; improperly allowing hearsay phone texts into evidence (a cell phone can’t testify as to who is sending messages); improper argument constituting prosecutor misconduct; and an appalling defense attorney waiver of the right of the defendant to be present at all phases of her trial.

One of the more interesting sections faults the judge for refusing to grant defense counsel’s motion to withdraw due to a conflict of interest.  While I am not named, my Bar complaint against defense attorneys Eric Larsen and Jill Thorpe is discussed, and the appeals attorneys wonder why the defendant was not counseled by an impartial attorney prior to the court hearing about the Bar complaint, and why the judge did not look into the matter to find out if it had any merit!

When “the fix is in” it usually means there is an agreed conspiracy between all parties to torpedo the defendant’s case.  (The defendant doesn’t know about this until it is too late.)  Participants are chosen for their roles because they are known to be “team players.”   One criminal defendant in an unrelated case wrote to me: "I was in the courtroom alone, with everyone against me, including my own attorney." It seems to be the consensus among the public who are knowledgeable about criminal trials that this is now the norm, not the exception. The outrageous shenanigans in Judge John Leonardo’s courtroom are a clear example of how real justice can be perverted with a concerted effort by all government-paid employees.

Just an afterthought:  if Shawna Forde sustained this many abuses of her rights during trial, what must Jason Bush’s forthcoming appeal look like?  His lawyers offered no defense at all in spite of him pleading not guilty. For a look at how victim's rights can trump due process, go to Victims Rights--Fatal Flaws.

The Opening Brief (Case # CR-11-0043) is available from the Arizona State Supreme Court and Westlaw.  Oh, wait—it isn’t available, at least not in this version.  The Supreme Court ordered the brief stricken because it exceeded the maximum word length.  Forde’s appeals attorneys have until March 9 to file a brief which does not exceed 150 pages.  I have a copy of the longer version.  Email me (webmaster at and I will send it to you.