FAIRFIELD — The growing autopsy controversy in the Solano County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office has prompted defense attorneys to ask a judge to throw out a murder charge for Michael Daniels, a Vallejo man currently set for a jury trial in less than two weeks.
Prosecutors meanwhile announced that the scope of an investigation into work done by Dr. Susan Hogan now includes all homicide autopsies she performed during the past five years.
The request by Daniels’ defense team revolves around hundreds of pages of documents about Hogan, who conducted most of the autopsies for the Sheriff’s Office since 2009 until her abrupt departure from her job in December 2013.
Prosecutors who have previously said they were reviewing 37 homicide autopsies confirmed Thursday that their review now includes all homicide autopsies done by Hogan since 2009.
District Attorney Donald du Bain has ordered one of his top prosecutors, Karen Jensen, to take charge of his office’s inquiry into Hogan and to take charge of handling the growing number of cases in which defense attorneys may seek to have murder cases thrown out or reversed.
Jensen, at Thursday’s hearing, told Judge Daniel Healy that Sheriff’s Office officials on Wednesday night provided her with recordings of 30 autopsies that they claim to have not known about until recent days. The recordings were made before Hogan signed off on final autopsy results.
Healy pointed out that five other recordings about other autopsies done by Hogan sometimes included important details that were left out of her final reports.
Daniels’ defense attorney said Thursday that the recording Hogan made in the Daniels’ case that he received from prosecutors just last week included Hogan saying that under no circumstances was she going to be pushed into labeling the cause of death to be a homicide.
However, that is what happened when prosecutors had Hogan testify at Daniels’ probable cause hearing, two weeks before her abrupt departure from the Sheriff’s Office. Hogan has said she was fired and that the prosecutor in the Daniels’ case played a role in her firing. Sheriff’s Office officials say Hogan retired.
Healy ordered a sheath of documents about Hogan be kept under wraps for at least another week. Those documents include an 86-page internal affairs report written by top Sheriff’s Office officials about Hogan’s competency, emails exchanged between prosecutors and top Sheriff’s Office officials about Hogan, and transcripts from meetings about Hogan with prosecutors, police and top Sheriff’s Office officials.
Defense attorneys say they should have been provided all of those documents and hundreds of pages of related documents months ago, especially in the Daniels case, and long before the probable cause hearing. Defense attorneys say there is no way a judge would have ordered a trial for Daniels if they knew about the Hogan investigation.
Defense attorneys also want to know about the details of a meeting they learned about for the first time last week, in which the prosecutor and Vallejo police met with Hogan before she testified.
Healy stood by his previous assertion that documents reflect that the police and the prosecutor met with Hogan to try to coax her into changing her findings in the Daniels’ case autopsy.
Healy ordered a hearing be conducted on the eve of trial – March 10 – during which Hogan, the prosecutor, Vallejo police and a sheriff’s deputy who were at the meeting are all expected to testify about took place during the meeting.
Daniels, 60, is accused of suffocating his girlfriend in August 2012 after she passed out in a Vallejo motel room after a night of heavy drinking. Defense attorneys argue the girlfriend’s cause of death was choking in her own vomit. Daniels was arrested but was released a short time later. He was arrested again in October 2013.
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