Solano autopsy controversy expands in scope

By From page A1 | February 28, 2014

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.

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 | 8 comments

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  • Bill of RightsFebruary 28, 2014 - 5:18 am

    Yawn!! Boring!! Find new material and quit being the mouthpiece for slimy defense attorneys!! Ashamed at bias reporting.

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  • The MisterFebruary 28, 2014 - 6:12 am

    Is it just me, or is Solano County beginning to look like a corrupt good-old-boy kind of place? Regardless... the old sheriff and the new sheriff (the old sheriff's hand-picked successor) knew about this trouble brewing for several years... and apparently didn't stop it. What a mess... what a jobs program for defense lawyers!

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  • blanca botwinFebruary 28, 2014 - 6:23 am

    @The Mister-Sadly, it's not just you seeing this. The Prosecution is notorious from keeping reports from the defense. I heard about it so much, I guess I thought it was somewhat "normal." This sounds like something out of a bad movie, and sadly, it just keeps getting worse.

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  • patrickFebruary 28, 2014 - 3:01 pm

    not beginning to look like "a good old boy" town, it has always has been-----I moved here in 1968, so I might be wrong.

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  • boomFebruary 28, 2014 - 10:40 am

    Beginning to look like that? How long has your head been in the sand?

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  • Danny BuntinFebruary 28, 2014 - 1:04 pm

    The only good thing is that Judge Daniel Healy is running the show now. I have seen him in action, and based on that, no one would be better for the job then him.

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  • PatriotFebruary 28, 2014 - 5:21 pm

    It seems to me that this is a criminal matter, civil rights violations and the FBI should be investigating the Sheriff and the DA. Solano residents should notify the local FBI office in Sacramento and request an investigation Time to stop the corruption. 1/3 of King City Police Department arrested Wednesday, six SFPD cops arrested yesterday and a West Sacramento Officer convicted yesterday of Kidnap and Rape. This must stop, and as you can see, people in Solano County are being framed too. If they had evidence on Mr. Daniels they wouln't need to force the pathologist to change her opinion. The Vallejo Cop and DA were bully's and the 60 year old female pathologist sucuumbed. But the Sheriff did nothing about it and she worked for him!!!

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  • tonya66March 01, 2014 - 10:08 am

    Makes me wonder how many other convictions were due to prosecutorial misconduct.

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