Jury acquits in case that revealed Coroner’s Office controversy

By From page A1 | April 18, 2014

VALLEJO — A jury gave the Solano County District Attorney’s Office a sharp and quick rebuke Thursday with a not guilty verdict in a murder trial that has been the center of a controversy about how top prosecutors have handled and hid alleged problems with homicide autopsies.

The verdict may portend to problems in possibly dozens of past and pending homicide cases.

Michael A. Daniels, 62, faced a murder charge for the death of his girlfriend, Jessica Brastow, in a Vallejo motel room on the night of Aug. 8, 2012, after they both had spent the day drinking heavily. Daniels called 911, reporting that Brastow was passed out on the floor. When paramedics arrived, they found her lifeless and covered in vomit. They declared her dead about 20 minutes later.

Vallejo police decided Daniels had suffocated Brastow, probably after she had passed out since there was scant evidence of any sort of struggle or fight.

The belief that Daniels was a killer remained even after an autopsy by Dr. Susan Hogan for the Solano County Sheriff’s-Coroner’s Office. Hogan found nothing that proved murder. She told police and prosecutors that Brastow, whose blood-alcohol level at the time of death was 0.37 percent, could have choked on her own vomit or perhaps the alcohol suppressed her breathing.

“This trial has shown that officers and the District Attorney’s Office blind themselves and hide from you the truth,” Daniels’ defense attorney, Meenha Lee, told jurors before the verdict, labeling prosecutors’ actions biased and unethical. “This is a prosecuting agency that is supposed to uphold the law.”

Some jurors hugged Lee after the verdicts that rejected murder and even less-serious possible findings that included involuntary manslaughter.

Among the things Lee believes prosecutors were hiding was a then-secret 2013 investigation spurred by the District Attorney’s Office, in part by Hogan refusing to label Brastow’s death a homicide, that led to Hogan being fired just a few days after prosecutors renewed their effort to prosecute Daniels. Questions about the quality and credibility of Hogan’s work was also hidden until the judge in the Daniels case ordered hundreds of pages of documents about Hogan and the investigation be shared with defense attorneys.

For months after Brastow’s death Hogan, who has done more than 5,000 autopsies, resisted persistent and sometimes hostile efforts by police and prosecutors to change her mind. She held firm at Daniels’ trial, earlier this week responding to the prosecutor’s question about the likeliest cause of death by saying, “I don’t know.”

The prosecutor, Andrew Ganz, told jurors that Hogan did not have the bigger picture and that not calling Brastow’s death a homicide was “not the end all and be all” in his case.

The outcome of Daniels’ trial is the first and so far the most drastic example how the District Attorney’s Office’s handling of the Hogan controversy may affect pending homicide cases. Defense attorneys for the accused in the Genelle Conway-Allen case, the Vallejo Police Officer Jim Capoot killing, the Keith Osby murder and torture case, the Travis Dairy killing and many more cases were closely watching the Daniels case.

Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.

Jess Sullivan

Jess has covered the criminal justice system in Solano County for several years. He was an embedded reporter in Iraq in 2003.

Discussion | 14 comments

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  • RichBIxApril 18, 2014 - 4:54 am

    This is merely the first - there will be more. Be sure to check out the 'Gold Standard' policy which the DA uses. Perhaps he should upgrade to the 'Platinum' level. Regards

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  • Suisun1April 18, 2014 - 6:16 am

    There needs to be full and transparent accountability for the mishandling of these cases. Not fair for the relatives of the victims who are being victimized again by a faulty and incompetent legal system. People also need to wake up and understand that life is not like a 60-minute episode of LAW and Order and that people of color and those in poverty are most at risk of being neglected by these institutions.

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  • The MisterApril 18, 2014 - 6:19 am

    Yes, the first of many since the corruption of the DA's Office AND the Sheriff's Office has begun to come out. Even though this article doesn't spell it out, the Sheriff's Office too demonstrated corruption when it put pressure on the coroner Hogan to report a finding that was politically desirable but a lie. So people of Solano County, this is the first of many such cases that will likely put murderers on the street, put innocent people behind bars, and cost taxpayers so much money to retry previous cases. Are you happy with the culture of corruption found in Sheriff Ferrara and DA du Bain and elsewhere in Solano County? I'm not and I suggest we vote against Ferrara and du Bain in this coming election... and then prosecute them and hold them accountable. I read where corruption in the City government in Bell, CA, resulted in a 12 year sentence for their City Manager... I say that Solano County can do better than that! They only stole money in Bell; the corruption in Solano County also steels innocent lives by conspiring lies to send innocent people to prison. Do you hear me people?! It is time for ACTION!!!

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  • Curious ObserverApril 18, 2014 - 8:04 am

    @ Mister, you really do have a unique way of interpreting information. I have read no information or heard of any evidence that indicates the Sheriff’s Office demonstrated any corruption or tried to put any pressure on the Pathologist in this case. As I have read it was Vallejo PD and the District Attorney’s Office that met with Hogan to question her on her findings. And by the way, as I have researched, it is part of the Pathologist job to meet with these people to explain her findings. It is well within the DA Office and Vallejo PD purview to presented additional information or evidence regarding the investigation to the Pathologist to see if this additional information would have additional relevancy on the Coroner’s report. The Pathologist, through all of this, stuck to her original findings. No one pressured her or forced her to change her opinion. The Sheriff, when informed that there may be issues with the Pathologist, initiated an investigation to determine the validity of those complaints. Once the investigation was completed, the Pathologist was given a choice to retire or to be fired for poor performance. The Pathologist chose to retire. The issue here is poor performance by the Pathologist, not corruption in the Sheriff’s Office as you continue to espouse. Yes there may be ramifications as a result of the poor performance by the Pathologist, but by allowing all this information to be examined by judges and juries it is not corruption, it is justice. To try and stir emotions by comparing this situation to the City of Bell scandal that has again recently come up in the news again is quite a stretch. The City of Bell was a criminal matter, this, as I have read, is a personnel issue for poor performance.

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  • Rich GiddensApril 18, 2014 - 8:46 am

    The conduct of the DA, the Sheriff and his henchmen does in fact rise to that level because of the FACTS.

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  • JValenciaApril 18, 2014 - 6:32 am

    Yet again Jess Sullivan writes a slanted news story full of bias and lacking journalistic integrity. When will the editors of the daily republic acknowledge Sullivan's long friendship with da candidate Krishna Abrams? Just report the news and let the public decide please.

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  • PrecisionApril 18, 2014 - 8:08 am

    Krishna Abrams had nothing to do with this case.

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  • GemmaApril 18, 2014 - 7:34 am

    GOOD! This is excellent news. Maybe I'm the only one whose had this thought, but aside from fighting for his freedom, the man in this case did lose his girlfriend. Did he have time to mourn that loss before being falsely accused, arrested, and tried? I'm very happy with this verdict.

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  • SavetheRepublicApril 18, 2014 - 7:41 am

    We should remember that we do not know all the facts of the case... the guy may well be a violent jerk, who did hit the woman, violent either when sober or only when drunk... .. but the actual cause of Death... did he actually cause her death, that was what could not be determined, Moral of the story...? Do not "Date" and drink and do not put yourself in these situations women..... but the point is that the person doing the autopsy should not have been pressured to not correctly report findings.

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  • Curious ObserverApril 18, 2014 - 8:15 am

    An excellent point although I disagree that the Pathologist was pressured as interpreting her findings to law enforcement is part of her job. We need to remember that just because the defendant was found not guilty, it does not mean he was innocent. All it means is that the District Attorney's Office did not meet the burden of proof based on the evidence presented, for the jury to find him guilty for the crimes charged. The criminal justice system is adversarial by nature and is not perfect. No system is. It is common knowledge that some people who are found guilty of crimes are, in fact and unfortunately, not guilty. Conversely, some who are found not guilty, are absolutely responsible for the crime.

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  • Rich GiddensApril 18, 2014 - 8:44 am

    The State Courts are not the only venue where Citizens may bring torts and seek justice along with restitution for damages for injuries like assault, battery, wrongful arrest, false inprinsonment, conspiracy to commit Constitutional violations, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violations of separations of powers, etc. Somebody call the Kinder's meat company! I believe there's going to be a big pork barbeque and soon. And DuBain? Here piggy piggy piggy! Soey soey sooo.....Sewer soon sooey!

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  • What a jokeApril 18, 2014 - 11:52 am

    Wait til tomorrow folks. You should be reading about another not guilty verdict. The thugs in Solano County would like to specially thank Don DuBain for his efforts. Or lack there of

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  • Rich GiddensApril 18, 2014 - 1:30 pm

    I hope Daniels sues in Federal Court and collects. I hope DuBain gets fully exposed and brought up on Fed Charges---same with Spering, Rosenthal, Ferrara et al.....They are all SCUM.

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  • SalApril 18, 2014 - 11:03 pm

    It's no secret Krishna has a boyfriend on the police force and is using her personal contacts to throw her boss under the bus. Hogon was inefficient and a drunk, who knows how many cases she messed up.

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