Study Condemns Prosecutors of 2003 16:1 Murder Trial - Mountain Messenger
SANTA CLARA–The legal outrage perpetrated against Mike Miller of the
Sixteen to One Mine has finally been recognized in legal circles.
Sierra County DA Larry Allen forwarded to us a recent report on
prosecutorial misconduct by the Northern California Innocence Project
at the Santa Clara University. That study identified the Sierra
County case as one of 707 examples of such malfeasance; in this case
withholding evidence from the Grand Jury.
For reasons almost certainly political, Governor Gray Davis’
desperate attempt to curry favor with organized labor, the California
District Attorneys Association circuit prosecutors had no trouble
getting the incompetent rookie Sierra County District Attorney Sharon
O’Sullivan to swear them in as deputies. The deputies, Gale Filter,
Kyle Hedum, Anthony Patchett and Denise Mejlszenkier then exploited a
tragic mine accident, claiming it negligent homicide.
As the evidence would not convince a judge, they side-stepped the
process by convening the grand jury. They then lied by omission,
misleading that panel, violating their oaths of office and the ethics
Although the State Bar Association is reviewing the records of 130
prosecutors named in the study, there is little likelihood it will
discipline the quartet involved in the Sixteen case, if history is
the precedent. Only seven of 707, found by courts to have committed
multiple misdeeds, have been disciplined.
This journal, and the trial court judge, were critical of attorneys
Filter, Hedum, Patchett and Mejlszenkier at the time. Charges were
subsequently dismissed by Plumas County Superior Court Judge Spike
Not surprisingly, Scott Thorpe, director of the California District
Attorneys Association, faulted the study for exaggerating the problem
of prosecutorial misconduct.
“It dramatically overstates the problem,” Thorpe said.
Of course, Thorpe has not been on the receiving end of his
“This report takes a dynamic new approach to prosecutorial misconduct
by naming names,” said Gerald Uelmen, a professor at Santa Clara
University's law school. “For years and years, this has been swept
under the rug.”
The study of cases from 1997 to 2009 found courts routinely fail to
report prosecutorial misconduct to the State Bar, as they are
required to do in harmful error cases.
The Misconduct Study shows that those empowered to address the problem
—California state and federal courts, prosecutors and the California
State Bar—repeatedly fail to take meaningful action. Courts fail to
report prosecutorial misconduct (despite having a statutory
obligation to do so), prosecutors deny that it occurred, and the
California State Bar almost never disciplines it.
“The failure of judges, prosecutors and the California State Bar to
live up to their responsibilities to report, monitor and discipline
prosecutorial misconduct fosters misconduct, undercuts public trust
and casts a cloud over those prosecutors who do their jobs properly,”
the report reads.
Another example cited by the study is Tulare County D.A. Phillip
Cline, who withheld evidence he had personally gathered indicating
the innocence of a man he tried, and convicted of murder. The man had
died in prison before the appeals court vindicated him.
Cline, the study notes “has never been held responsible for his
actions, and it is virtually certain that he never will. He has
absolute immunity from any civil liability for his conduct as a
The study summarized CDAA’s local misconduct: “Michael Miller was
charged with manslaughter after a fatal mining accident killed a
miner who was employed by Miller. The prosecution claimed that
Miller’s gross neglect for safety precautions was a direct cause of
the miner's death. However, the trial court dismissed the charges
after it found that prosecutors failed to inform the grand jury that
a state regulator had visited the mine a week before the accident and
had not seen any hazards.”
The names of cases and prosecutors can be found at: http://
A summary of the study can be found at: http://