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In re Sagin

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

August 30, 2019

In re JACK EDWARD SAGIN, on Habeas Corpus.

          Monterey County Superior Court Case No.: MCR 5971, HC7683 Hon. Julie R. Culver Trial Judge.

          Attorneys for Respondent: The People Xavier Becerra Attorney General of California Gerald A. Engler Chief Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey M. Laurence Senior Assistant Attorney General Laurence K. Sullivan Supervisiong Deputy Attorney General Catherine A. Rivlin Supervising Deputy Attorney General

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Jack Edward Sagin Emily V. Griffen John A. Nathanson (pro hac vice) Donna Zamora-Stevens Lisa Valenti-Jordan Shearman & Sterling LLP Linda Starr Melissa O'Connell Kelley Fleming Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law

          Attorneys for Amici Curiae: The California Innocence Project; The Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent; After Innocence; and The Innocence Network Kyle C. Wong Max Alderman Reece W. Trevor Maureen Alger Adam Gershenson (pro hac vice) Cooley LLP

          Grover, J.

         Jack Sagin has been in prison for over 30 years. Sentenced to life without parole after being convicted of murder in 1986, he has petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, asserting that newly available DNA evidence shows he was not at the scene of the crime. As we will explain, we find it more likely than not the new evidence would have changed the outcome of Sagin's trial. We will therefore grant the requested relief by vacating the conviction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Murder (1985)

         “Victim of Stabbing Found Dead in Home, ” read the headline in the July 16, 1985 edition of the Monterey Peninsula Herald. The paper reported that 40-year-old Paula Durocher was discovered in her Monterey apartment around 11:00 the previous morning, dead of multiple stab wounds to the upper body: “Durocher, who apparently was divorced and lived alone, was found by her daughter. … No arrests have been made in the case and there are no suspects.”

         The summer ended without the killer being identified. After more than two months, police had not made an arrest. But in early October, two inmates at the Monterey County Jail separately reported that Jack Sagin (also housed at the jail awaiting trial on other charges) confessed to killing Paula Durocher. Both inmates had significant criminal records and were known informants who had in the past provided tips to police in exchange for leniency in their own cases. Authorities deemed the information reliable, and Sagin was charged with first degree murder.

         The Trial (1986)

         Sagin pleaded not guilty and the case went to trial in July 1986, one year after Ms. Durocher's death. “The defense in this case is simple and straightforward, ” Sagin's attorney told the jury in an opening statement. “Mr. Sagin did not kill this lady, Paula Durocher. He had nothing to do with her death. He was not in the city of Monterey during the weekend in which she died. He was not in the County of Monterey in the weekend on which she died.”

         The first witness called by the prosecution was the medical examiner, who described the victim's injuries. She had been stabbed five times with a thin blade, similar to a kitchen knife. There was a superficial stab wound to her head; one wound to the jugular vein in her neck; and three wounds that pierced her heart and were the likely cause of death. The victim also had a lacerated ear, bruises on her lip, and an abrasion on her cheek. The abrasion was probably from being smothered by a couch cushion. Examination of the lungs, which showed signs of suffocation, supported that conclusion. The victim's hands showed bruising to her thumbs, suggesting holding something very strongly or squeezing, and a cut near the second knuckle of the left hand. The precise time of death could not be determined, but the victim had likely been killed between 18 and 40 hours before her body was discovered on Monday morning.

         The prosecution called several witnesses to corroborate that timeframe. Ms. Durocher's son had telephoned her between 10:30 and 11:00 on Saturday morning. She answered and said she would call back because she was taking a shower. The last person known to have seen Ms. Durocher alive was a male coworker who visited her around 10:30 the same morning and stayed for half an hour. Then the man she was dating telephoned her at 4:00 Saturday afternoon, and again at 6:00. He got no answer either time. Ms. Durocher's body was found by her daughter the following Monday morning, after she received a call that her mother had not arrived at work and went to check on her. The daughter found the front door of the apartment locked but the sliding patio door ajar. She saw her mother's body on the living room floor, face up, dressed in a bathrobe with a towel draped across the feet. The apartment did not seem ransacked and nothing was missing except for a kitchen knife (the likely murder weapon). On cross-examination the daughter was asked about several of her mother's ex-boyfriends, including one she characterized as jealous and another who had been violent.

         Russel Wydler testified to connect Sagin to the victim. Wydler was a former boyfriend of Ms. Durocher who once lived with her; he habitually asked her for money, which she usually provided. Wydler said he met Sagin hanging around Fisherman's Wharf and he once took him along on a visit to Ms. Durocher's house to borrow $40. Wydler knew she often left her back door open. “Did you tell Sagin that?” the prosecutor inquired. “Yes, I might have, you know, brought it up, or something, ” Wydler answered. On cross-examination, though, Wydler was impeached by his previous testimony: At the preliminary hearing, he said he had never taken Sagin to Paula Durocher's apartment. He explained that he had been untruthful at the preliminary hearing because he was afraid of retribution from Sagin.

         The prosecution then called the two informants from the jail: Louis Graxiola and Robert Castenada. Graxiola occupied the cell next to Sagin after being arrested for theft. In October 1985, Sagin began talking about a murder--he said a woman was killed in Monterey, and he knew something about it. Graxiola had given police information about a murder case in the past and admitted that after talking to Sagin, “it probably crossed [his] mind” that telling police about this murder would be a way to get himself out of jail. According to Graxiola, Sagin said police were trying to pin the crime on him using a footprint found at the scene. Sagin knew that the victim had been stabbed three or four times in the heart. Sagin also said he had previously been to her house with a man named Russel, who was the victim's boyfriend. The next day Graxiola pressed for more information. Though Sagin never admitted killing anyone, he said there had been an altercation--“the woman caught him in the house and she wasn't supposed to be there, and they kind of fought.” He said the woman “took a swing at him and he told her he would kill her, you motherfucker.”

         Robert Castenada was also housed in a cell next to Sagin in October 1985. Castenada had been convicted of at least 13 felonies. Like Graxiola, he had previously been an informant for police. According to Castenada, Sagin gave him a more detailed confession. Sagin first said someone was trying to frame him and Russel for the murder. Then--after Castenada purportedly gave him a prescription muscle relaxant--Sagin admitted to killing Ms. Durocher alone; that he went in to do a burglary “and she popped out of nowhere and he stabbed her three times in the heart.” Castenada recalled Sagin saying he did not leave with anything, “he just panicked and took off.” In ...

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