Tucson Federal District Court Judge David Bury issued a decision on December 30 denying a retrial for imprisoned former Congressman Rick Renzi of Arizona, developments which I’ve been tracking over the last six months. Bizarrely, at the same time, Bury admitted in his nine-page opinion that virtually everything factual Renzi had asserted in his motion for a retrial regarding the prosecution’s misconduct was true. The prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence from Renzi’s defense — which likely would have changed the jury’s mind — not just once, but multiple times. Some of it was not discovered until after the trial was over, so the jury never got to see the other side of the story. That constituted a Brady violation, which the U.S. Supreme Court has held is a violation of due process. As a former prosecutor, I find this extremely disturbing.
Information is now coming out revealing striking similarities to the prosecution of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, which also involved corruption by FBI agents in order to obtain a conviction of a member of Congress. But when the judge in the Stevens’ case discovered after the trial that the prosecutors had withheld crucial evidence, the entire indictment was thrown out.
The prosecution of Renzi was based on the premise he had proposed a federal land exchange that supposedly would have benefited him financially. But it came out after the trial that the prosecution’s key witness/victim, Philip Aries, changed his story to say it was Renzi’s idea to propose the land exchange instead of others, because Aries was told by the prosecution that he would receive money for his testimony. During the hearing to reconsider a new trial last October, Aries testified that he discussed compensation with an FBI agent for this: “$10,000 would be a home run,” he said he told the agent. “$25,000 would be winning the lottery.”
Judge Bury admitted in his December opinion rejecting a retrial that the proposal to include the Sandlin land, which supposedly would have benefited Renzi, really came from Aries, not Renzi. FBI Agent Dan Odom agreed on the stand during the October hearing that leaving out this exculpatory information was a “material omission.” Nevertheless, though chief DOJ prosecutor Gary Restaino knowingly put on Aries’ false testimony, he was never punished.