For two years, prosecutors, police and sheriff's deputies stalled turning over potential exculpatory evidence to defense lawyers representing Joseph Govey–a 49-year-old Orange County man wanted dead by white supremacist gangsters and facing seven felony charges that, if convicted on all counts, could have meant spending the rest of his life in one of California's notorious prisons.
But Senior Deputy District Attorney Beth Costello walked into Judge Thomas M. Goethals' Santa Ana courtroom on Sept. 22 and startled Govey, a convicted felon, as well as his attorney, Renee Garcia.
Costello dismissed three of the most serious charges: solicitation of murder, attempted murder and street terrorism.
The veteran prosecutor's eyebrow-raising move wasn't motivated by the sudden onset of a bleeding heart sensibility. Most assuredly, the decision came reluctantly and with calculation. The Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA) had, after all, consumed grand jury time to win a 2012 indictment against Govey.
For nearly 24 months, OCDA officials refused to turn over records of their use of jailhouse snitch, drug dealer and serial, residential burglar Alexander Frosio, a primary source against Govey on the dismissed charges. Costello spent months informing Garcia that records of Frosio's activities as well as those of two other snitches, criminals Carl Johnson Jr. and Arthur Palacios, didn't exist.
The public defender persisted and eventually learned prosecutors had been telling opposing stories in the same courthouse.
Incredibly, in a separate, simultaneously active case, one of Costello's colleagues in June conceded the existence of at least a three-inch thick stack of previously hidden Frosio records.
The Weekly has learned that among the secret details in that stack is a 2012 Orange County sheriff's department (OCSD) report indicating Frosio can't be trusted to perform honest informant work.
Yet, in the intervening months, much–if not all–that evidence–including the bombshell OCSD report–remained hidden from Garcia, who is entitled to explore the credibility of the snitch to test the strength of the government's case.
After Goethals made a series of rulings this month that would have led to at least the partial unsealing of the files, Costello found herself in a conundrum: comply with the judge's order and reveal the informant records OCDA had worked so hard to conceal, or hope to make the disclosure moot by dismissing the Frosio-related counts.
The prosecutor chose to let a man she'd been claiming is a would-be murderer go free in the alleged, 2011 plot to kill another jailhouse snitch, Marcel Irizzary, who–according to court records–set up Govey for a Huntington Beach Police Department trap.
Makes you wonder what the government is so desperate to hide.
In August, Goethals declared that prosecutors, police and deputies lied under oath in his courtroom in efforts to thwart a law enforcement corruption probe by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders. [Go HERE to see coverage of that historic announcement.]
Last week, the Weekly first reported another OCDA move to shield the office from additional informant program embarrassments by dismissing pending several criminal matters. Prosecutor Marc Rozenberg offered Isaac John Palacios, who was charged with two killings, a special quid pro quo. If Palacios agreed to end the cases, Rozenberg would drop charges for murdering Alberto Gutierrez in 2005 and give him a punishment of time served in pre-trial lockup and probation for the 2006 murder of Randy Adame.
Palacios, who faced potential life in prison if convicted of the killings, took the unbelievable, sweetheart deal that allowed him to walk out of the Orange County Jail hours later.
One person was especially crushed: Jacqueline Adame, the victim's sister. In the wake of Rozenberg's move in Judge Patrick Donahue's court, she said OCDA isn't serving the public.
"I don't feel like you guys did your jobs," Adame told Rozenberg. "This person [Palacios] is completely laughing . . . and my brother's dead . . . This is just, like, a slap to my face . . . I'm really disappointed over this–very disappointed . . . To me, the system is not fair."