A June 2007 beer and pot party at an Anaheim apartment ended in tragedy with 23-year-old Andrew Thompson dying in the street and a knife-wielding David Louis Vinci, Jr. eventually sent off to prison.
But Vinci claims Orange County Superior Court Judge Carla M. Singer cheated him of a fair trial and left him wrongly convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 2009.
According to a federal appeal, a homicide prosecutor implied to jurors that Vinci concocted a false self-defense explanation by asking the defendant, "[You've] had two years to think about your statement to this jury, haven't you?"
Vinci's lawyer tried to introduce evidence the defendant told the self-defense story to police officers at the time of his arrest, but the prosecutor quickly objected and Singer sided with the government to keep the information from jurors.
Later, a California Court of Appeal sided with Vinci on the point, but rendered his victory meaningless by opining that the judge's error was "harmless."
"Because the error was not harmless, and because the error was of constitutional dimension, petitioner is entitled to relief from this court," Vinci wrote in his federal lawsuit.
The defendant also accused Singer of giving the homicide prosecutor a "special jury instruction" that "negated" California law that "a defendant who forfeits the right to self-defense by initiating a fight may regain the right to self-defense when the adversary suddenly escalates the fight with deadly force."
Vinci believes his trial should have ended in an acquittal of all charges because he stabbed Thompson in the left rib cage, a wound that punctured his heart, to defend himself from the victim repeatedly swinging a skateboard at him.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zarefsky concluded that Singer's error did not violate the constitution by likely changing the outcome of the trial and noted the defense was allowed to argue self-defense to the jury.
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This week, U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu accepted Zarefsky's report and recommendations, denied the appeal and closed the case.
Upshot: Vinci, 29, will continue to serve his 12-year punishment inside the North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre, Oklahoma.