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Death Penalty Investigator Pleads Guilty to Fraud
SACRAMENTO _ Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced Monday that a death row investigator pleaded guilty to perjury, forgery and falsifying documents while defending four California condemned inmates.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Gary Ransom approved the pleas to four felonies Monday afternoon. Defendant Kathleen Culhane, 40, is expected to receive five years in prison when sentenced in August.
“She crossed the line from vigorous defense to unethical and illegal conduct, which cannot be tolerated,” Brown said.
Culhane was charged in February with fabricating documents in a bid to prevent inmates from being executed. The criminal complaint followed a year-long investigation conducted in part with the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office. It was prompted by suspicious declarations filed by Culhane on behalf of death row inmate Michael Morales, who was sentenced to death for the 1981 rape and murder of 17-year-old Terri Winchell. Culhane was accused of fabricating declarations by jurors in Ventura County _ where the case was tried because of a venue change _ in a failed bid to win clemency for Morales.
Culhane worked as an investigator for the state-funded Habeas Corpus Resource Center and later in private practice. As an investigator, Culhane’s job was to locate and interview witnesses and jurors that participated in death penalty cases, and obtain signed declarations favorable to the inmates’ legal defense and pleas for clemency. Culhane’s declarations were delivered to the attorneys representing death row inmates who, in turn, filed them as evidence with the courts and the governor. The Habeas Corpus Resource Center cooperated with Brown’s investigation.
The criminal complaint alleged Culhane filed fraudulent documents on behalf of 11 jurors, two witnesses, two court interpreters and one police officer. The documents were filed in the following four death penalty cases: Michael Morales, Vicente Figueroa Benavides, Christian Monterroso and Jose Guerra.
A Los Angeles County jury convicted Guerra of the 1990 rape and murder of Kathleen Powell. A Kern County jury convicted Benavides of the 1991 murder, rape, and sodomy of a 21 month old child. An Orange County jury convicted Monterroso of the 1991 murders of Tarsem Singh and Ashokkumar Patel and the attempted murder of Allen Canellas. These inmates, including Morales, remain on death row with appeals pending.
Culhane pleaded guilty to count 1 (perjury); count 19 (forgery); count 27 (forgery) and count 44 (filing a false document).
The case is People v. Culhane, 07F01781.
A copy of the complaint is attached.