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Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005 02:39 pm

Credibility question

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Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil plans to meet with SPD to discuss the allegations
PHOTO BY GINNY LEE

Two Springfield Police Department detectives who tried to solve a decade-old homicide now stand accused of perjury, concealing reports, and witness intimidation.

The allegations involve the detectives’ investigation into the murder of 19-year-old Tonia Smith, killed on New Year’s Day 1994. The murder was shelved as a “cold case” until about 1999, when it was resurrected by Detectives Paul Carpenter and Jim Graham. Their investigation eventually led to first-degree murder charges against Anthony Grimm, who was tried and acquitted in November.

The misconduct accusations come from private investigator Bill Clutter, who worked for Grimm’s defense team. In a letter dated Feb. 14, Clutter accuses Graham and Carpenter of withholding reports of interviews with witnesses favorable to the defense and of intimidating a young witness who planned to testify for the defense.

Clutter sent a five-page letter with supporting documents to Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil, who sponsored an ordinance recently approved by City Council establishing a Citizen Police Review Commission. McNeil wouldn’t comment on the details of the accusations, but said he hoped to discuss the matter with Police Chief Don Kliment, who was sent a copy of the letter.

“I’m going to be meeting with the chief to discuss what action is being taken and what form of investigation is going to be taking place because clearly, after reading the letter, there seems to be some egregious conduct on the part of the two officers in question,” McNeil says.

Kliment declined to comment, citing SPD’s policy against discussing ongoing investigations. However, one veteran investigator in the detectives’ chain of command, speaking on the condition that he remain anonymous, says Carpenter and Graham are excellent officers with a reputation for working hard to solve crimes.

Clutter apparently wrote the letter after being contacted by Lt. Craig Sims of SPD’s internal affairs office, concerning an investigation of Sgt. Bob Oney. Oney, who had been involved in the original homicide investigation, was subpoenaed by the defense and testified briefly at Grimm’s trial.

“In my 20-year career as a defense investigator, I have interviewed many police officers,” Clutter wrote. “None have ever been subjected to an internal affairs investigation until now.”

Although he doesn’t specify why Oney was being investigated and possibly does not know (SPD has a policy against discussing disciplinary matters), Clutter wrote that Oney was being made a scapegoat, and that Carpenter and Graham should be investigated instead.

Clutter then recounted several instances in which the detectives interviewed witnesses without disclosing those interviews to the defense team, and of the detectives’ efforts to shape the testimony of other witnesses.

For example, the detectives and the state’s attorney’s office offered Ralph Chamberlin, who had been a roommate in the same house as Grimm, full immunity to testify against Grimm. He refused, and appeared in court at Grimm’s trial dressed in striped jail attire, having been arrested and jailed on an unrelated theft charge. His statement to Clutter, attached to the letter, says Carpenter and Graham interrogated him for more than four hours in an effort to have him to implicate Grimm. Instead, Chamberlin’s testimony supported Grimm’s version of events.

Clutter’s charge of perjury is apparently based on the detectives’ interview with Grimm’s other roommate, Curtis Bradford. Bradford was interviewed by detectives in August 2002, yet no report or statement was produced. According to Clutter’s letter, Graham first testified that he had made no report of the interview. He later said he had made a report, and that it was in the courtroom in his “personal folder.” Attorneys then leafed through the folder and found that report along with a report that discredited a witness who had testified for the prosecution, neither of which had been disclosed. Graham testified that he believed the reports had been filed in the records department and produced along with all other documents.

Judge Leo Zappa ruled that the omission of the reports was done without malice and did not harm either side.

Perhaps the most serious charge in Clutter’s letter involves Carpenter and Graham’s interview of Dylan Davis, a witness who was 14 years old at the time of the crime. The defense subpoenaed  Davis, now 25, because he had told police in 1994 that he had seen Smith abducted by three neighborhood residents he knew as Sleepy, Bushwick and Antonio. Clutter’s letter describes Davis as “a reluctant witness who was concerned about his safety”; Davis is also known to have some developmental delays.

On the second day of the trial, Davis was brought to the office of Chad Turner, the then-assistant state’s attorney assigned to prosecute Grimm (Turner has since resigned). Clutter’s letter erroneously stated that police arrested Davis; Turner says he sent his own investigator to bring Davis in for an interview, but that he would have issued a warrant if Davis had not agreed to come in.

While Davis was in Turner’s office, the detectives came in and told the witness that they had informed Sleepy, Bushwick and Antonio about his planned testimony, and that the three men could even be present in the courtroom while he was on the witness stand.

Clutter and Turner also have slightly different interpretations of that conversation. Clutter describes it as a tactic “designed to intimidate the witness from testifying for the defense.”

Turner, while confirming the general content of conversation, says the detectives were simply trying to persuade Davis to stop changing his story. The detectives had previously interviewed Davis, and he had told them his 1994 statement was false, Turner says. When they learned Davis had told Clutter his original version, and that he planned to repeat that story on the stand, they wanted to warn Davis about perjury.

“There was a confrontation between him and some of the officers related to things that were not true,” Turner says. “It was basically Carpenter saying, ‘Dylan, that’s not what you told us before . . .  This is the third time you’ve changed your story.' "

Turner says Davis became upset and began using profanity, but that Carpenter conducted himself in a professional manner throughout the interview.

“I don’t believe he ever crossed the line,” Turner says. “Anybody who is trying to claim that Carpenter crossed the line in terms of pressuring a witness is simply wrong. We had a young man who was about to perjure himself and who in fact did perjure himself, and we let him know he was assisting in letting a murderer walk free.”

He says Clutter was not present, and must be basing his letter on Davis’s account, calling it a case of “someone who has very, very little credibility,” meaning Clutter, relying on the word of “someone who has zero credibility,” meaning Davis.

Clutter, who initially declined to comment, says he finds something interesting about Turner’s version. “If those detectives had previously interviewed Dylan,” he says, “why didn’t we get a report of that interview?”

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