Fake Lab Report Could Land Alleged Rapist $150,000 Settlement

A fake crime lab report that already cost the city of San Jose years of court battles and lost time will now take $150,000 to settle. San Jose will likely use cash from its liability claims reserve fund to pay off Michael Kerkeles, who in 2005 was accused of raping a mentally disabled woman with the cognitive capacity of an 8-year-old.

The case fell flat because a San Jose police officer testified about a fake piece of evidence as if it were real.

Preparing to question the suspect back in 2005, detective Matthew Christian typed up a report by a fictional Santa Clara County Crime Lab technician named Rebecca Roberts, who claimed in her fictional report that semen was found on a blanket taken from Kerkeles’ garage.

Kerkeles invoked his Miranda rights, remaining silent and bypassing any questions. Christian never got his chance to use his meticulously crafted stage prop, so he filed it away with the rest of the evidence.

Fast-forward a year and four months: The case made it to a preliminary hearing and witnesses were called to the stand. Christian testified under oath that Rebecca Roberts’ report was the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It just totally slipped his mind that he doctored the whole thing, the city says. The only reason anyone found out is because Kerkeles’ attorney called the crime lab to ask for the technician’s resume—only to learn she didn’t exist.

It sounds outrageously unconstitutional, this whole making-up-evidence-as-you-go business. But City Attorney Richard Doyle says it’s actually OK as long as it’s used as an interrogation tool and it’s not coercive. Police say it’s a rare tactic. Doyle says the only reason the city is settling is to avoid more legal back-and-forth.

“While we believe that there was insufficient evidence supporting the claim of a conspiracy, and that the officer truly did not remember that he had prepared the report as a ruse when he testified … there are always risks in proceeding to trial, and this settlement avoids those risks,” Doyle writes in a memo going before the council May 7.

But the attorney who won the civil suit for Kerkeles begs to differ.

The appellate court that reinstated Kerkeles’ claim against the city did so based on evidence that San Jose officers “routinely created false crime lab reports and there had been other instances where fake reports had been presented in court as genuine,” according to a press statement released by attorney Timothy McMahon two years ago.

The justices unanimously agreed to let Kerkeles sue Christian for conspiring with Jamie Stringfield, a former Santa Clara County deputy district attorney, to pass off a fake report as the real deal, McMahon stated.

“The DA’s office went so far as to list the fictitious crime lab employee on the trial witness list in order to give credibility to their deceptive strategy,” says McMahon, adding that prosecutors bullied Kerkeles into taking a plea deal.

Stringfield told the Mercury News after the case got dismissed in 2007 that she still believed Kerkeles was “in no way … factually innocent.”

Thanks to the sloppily executed and ethically questionable—though technically legal—policework, that’s now forever relegated to speculation.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

17 Comments

  1. The described behavior is a direct attack on the judiciary, the jury system, and the public.  If the narrative sketched out above is true, it means that the law enforcement and prosecutorial functions in Santa Clara County are hopelessly corrupted.

    Who would willingly agree to serve on a jury when false evidence is manufactured and used in a trial?  I know that I wouldn’t.

    And the snarky comment about “factually innocent” means nothing to the DA’s office…recall the Encinal Ten?  They were the ten elementary students herded into a police van from their classroom by ADA Marc Buller.

    The whole thing turned out to be a hoax, but the DA’s office under three different District Attorneys has refused to clean up the horrendous charges with a statement that the ten kids were factually innocent.  Don’t count on this District Attorney’s office to do the right thing…ever.

    • The investigator used a ruse, which is used all the time and is perfectly legal, to elicit a response from a suspect as part of the bigger picture of gathering evidence. This investigator did not purposely “manufacture” evidence which he intended to be used at a trial. It was only meant as a ruse to elicit some sort of response from the suspect. He made a mistake by incorporate it into his case file. He is human. I dare say if your family member was the victim of a heinous crime, you would not object to an investigator using a rouse when questioning a suspect and was trying to get justice for your family member.

  2. Those working in the sexual assault unit have traditionally had an extremely heavy work load over the years. These are very complex cases, often times involving multiple victims, witnesses and suspects. Their case loads could only have gotten much heavier over the past few years with the drastic cuts to SJPD investigative units, coupled with a large increase in San Jose’s population. These sexual assault investigators compile reports that are sometimes hundreds of pages long, all in the name of seeking justice for victims of heinous sexual assaults. It is so easy to Monday morning quarterback this case, but this hard working detective made an honest mistake trying to bring justice for a mentally disable woman who was raped. If that were our relative we would expect him to do the same. This appears to be a payout for a nuisance lawsuit, as $150,000 is a small award.

    Those who have worked in any large city sexual assault unit deal with the true monsters in our society, especially those that prey on children. The suspects in sexual assault cases are the worst of the worst. Even every criminal in prison disdain the sexual assault suspects. This is very, very dark work, and these investigators give up a part of their soul for each case they work. Those investigators working sexual assault cases are under tremendous pressure to solve cases, coupled with extremely heavy caseloads and dealing with cases that mentally and emotionally scar them, as well as the victims they deal with.

    • > —though technically legal—policework

      Technically legal?

      Fabricating evidence is technically legal?

      Does the defense, then, have to hire REAL experts who are paid REAL dollars from scarce or non-existent REAL defendant resources to perform REAL analysis to dispute, refute, and discredit the fabricated “technically legal” evidence?

      A court trial is a war of attrition.

      For a prosecutor to flood a court with with dubious, sensational, fabricated evidence to exhaust the defendant’s capacity to resist is highly unethical and downright immoral.

  3. Let me get this straight, Detective Matthew Christian testifies about some piece of paper purportedly written by another person, swears that it’s true, and that passes for “evidence”?  Even if it were truly his own report (and evidently it was!), wouldn’t that be mere hearsay?  In addition to not passing the buck to the competent defense attorney Kurt Seibert who’s the hero, let’s lay it at the judge’s door.  Even though the detective could testify at the preliminary hearing that he seized the blanket, he couldn’t have had personal knowledge of the existence of semen or a positive DNA test except indirectly by getting that from a (real) lab technician.  Superior Court Judge Gilbert T. Brown sounds like the ultimate ass in this case.

    • You don’t get it.  Detective Christian could not have testified at trial about the test results the fabricated report purported to show. It would have been inadmissable hearsay.  Different rules apply at preliminary hearings, where certain hearsay testimony is allowed.  If it had been a real test, the criminalist who conducted the test would have been required to testify at trial as to the results and been subjected to cross-examination about his or her qualifications, techniques and the legitimacy of the result.  The report was created as an interrogation tool, which was perfectly legal.

      • I did not address the legality of the bogus interrogation tool whatsoever.  The rule against hearsay is not suspended at a preliminary hearing, although the burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is lower.  The joke judge let a dirty dick lie so Jamie Stringfield raped the defendant with a bologna sausage.

  4. I have a hunch that there is protocol in place already to prevent this, it’s called not fabricating evidence. 

    As for SJPD being understaffed,it might lighten the burden of the detectives working such cases if there were criminal penalties and mandatory jail time for making false accusations of rape.

  5. A unique screw-up for sure, but one that has much more to do with the incredibly heavy workload that has always challenged those working the sexual assault unit than it does with any kind of incompetence.

    San Jose has, by every professional measure in use, always been understaffed; and even before the ruinous Reed arrived, the men and women working the sexual assault unit were, due to the devastating and complex nature of the crimes involved, subjected to relentless personal and professional pressure to solve cases and help victims heal. And, typically, it is those working the hardest who are most at risk of trying to do too much and winding up confusing their cases or over-relying on document-assisted recollection.

    I have a hunch that, were we to hear from some of this investigator’s coworkers, that this imperfect guy is a pretty good cop.

    • If this guy can’t remember what he makes up, then you have to wonder what sort of dream world he’s living in.

      I disagree.  This guy Christian shouldn’t be a detective.

      Springfiels, the Deputy DA in the case is pretty lame too.  The following is from the link to a Merc article:

      Stringfield said in an interview last week that she had paid scant attention to the real report, because it did not help her case. During that interview, she blamed Kerkeles’ defense attorney for not exposing the discrepancy between the two reports, both of which had been provided to the defense.

      Springfield blames the defense attorney for not exposing a discrepancy that she herself missed?  So hear that sort of reasoning in third grade classrooms.

  6. Wrong again. In 1990, California voters approved proposition 115, which included a provision which allows some hearsay to be presented, through experienced police officers, at preliminary hearings. The Judge isn’t the one who doesn’t know the law. You are.

    • Thanks for your factual comment about Prop 115.  I’m sure I was in the minority who voted against such a mockery of due process, but it’s been too long to remember.  If experienced officers can just make stuff up and present it at a preliminary hearing, maybe such kangaroo hearings should be dispensed with entirely and cases should go straight to trial.  My apology to Judge Brown—rather than an ass, he’s just a hamster on a wheel.

  7. This a good example of how the thread of comments can twist a reasonable discussion into a legal cul-de-sac that is off topic.  This case is not about hearsay, it is about fraud and forgery of documents by someone for use in legal process.

    For those of you interested in hearsay, it can be found at Evidence Code Sections 1200-1205:

    http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=evid&group=01001-02000&file=1200-1205

    If you cannot reach this short document with the above link, simply type “CA evidence code on hearsay” in your search engine.

    It may be that a couple of commmenters are looking at the Penal Code Section 872 as amended this year:

    http://law.onecle.com/california/penal/872.html

    If the link doesn’t work,simply type “CA penal code 872” and that should get you there.

    In a way, I regret providing this information because it means commenters who are trying to turn fraud and perjury into hearsay will have won the on-line debate.  But this thread is a fascinating example of how a little special knowledge is able to derail good understanding by persons horrified by this judicial abuse into a simple flippant, mild error.  It wasn’t….it went to the heart of the judicial procedure and fair trials if everything we were told in the posting is true.

  8. The bottom line is that Christian made a mistake, albeit a big one.  Those who can’t accept that and want to see an evil intent probably don’t like the police under any circumstances.