By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: May 05, 2009
The retrial of a man accused of robbing a Keene bank was delayed again because a core witness has indicated police misconduct and planted evidence tainted the case, court documents show.
Jesse Garcia’s retrial at Cheshire County Superior Court was scheduled to begin today after several postponements, but his court-appointed attorney, Theodore W. Barnes, was granted more time to build his case.
Garcia, 32, faces three counts of armed robbery and one count of being a felon in possession of a weapon in connection with a midday heist in August at the Bank of America in downtown Keene. His new trial date has not been set.
Barnes said during the first trial in November that Garcia was the victim of a setup and that his ex-girlfriend, Cynthia Wood, was at the center of the frame job. Wood was angry with Garcia because he left her for a stripper, Barnes said.
In asking for another continuance in the trial, Barnes cited a pair of letters Garcia received in jail from Wood. The letters “call into question the truthfulness” of what Wood told the police and a jury during Garcia’s first trial, Barnes wrote in his request.
Wood’s letters “partially identify” a person who may have planted evidence that was used to connect Garcia to the bank robbery, Barnes’ request states.
Wood also claims in the letters that police investigators were aware of evidence that proved Garcia’s innocence, but ignored it and moved forward with the case against him, according to Barnes.
Barnes and prosecutors will question Wood under oath about the letters during a court hearing scheduled later this month.
Wood could refuse to answer certain questions about the letters by invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The court would then determine if she has a valid argument to remain silent.
The process will help Barnes and prosecutors prepare questions for Wood during the retrial.
In other pretrial maneuverings, Barnes unsuccessfully attempted to keep out of court a ski mask and pellet gun Wood said she found among Garcia’s belongings and turned over to police.
Garcia’s DNA was found on the ski mask and the pellet gun, which matched witness descriptions of the bank robber’s weapon, Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Kathleen G. O’Reilly said during the first trial.
O’Reilly, the lead prosecutor in the case, did not respond to a message left at her office seeking comment on Wood’s letters to Garcia.
Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed and Barnes also declined to comment on the substance of the letters, which have not been made public.
Barnes said the letters are his “priority one” in proving Garcia’s innocence. But he is still considering hiring a private investigator to interview jurors from the first trial in an effort to prove Garcia did not receive a fair trial.
Jurors who spoke with The Sentinel after the mistrial said the jury was leaning toward acquitting Garcia when they left the court’s deliberation room for a weekend break. When they returned to court Monday, the jury favored a guilty verdict.
Barnes said he suspected some jurors disobeyed the judge’s orders and read news accounts of the trial, which mentioned Garcia’s previous convictions for armed robbery. His criminal history was not disclosed during the trial.