Kenneth Gay was convicted of, and sentenced to death for, murdering a police officer in 1983, a death sentence the Supreme Court affirmed on appeal ten years later (People v. Cummings (1993) 4 Cal.4th 1233).  However, the court later vacated the death penalty because of errors by defendant’s counsel during the trial’s penalty phase (In re Gay (1998) 19 Cal.4th 771) and then on appeal reversed a second death sentence after retrial (People v. Gay (2008) 42 Cal.4th 1195).  Today, in In re Gay, the court vacates the first-degree murder conviction, finding counsel was incompetent at the guilt phase, too.

The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Leondra Kruger concludes that the attorney’s multiple important errors were made in “the context of an attorney-client relationship poisoned at its root by fraud.”  Counsel fraudulently induced the defendant to hire him in place of a public defender and he didn’t tell the defendant that, during the trial, the attorney was being investigated for embezzling funds from clients in an unrelated civil case, an investigation conducted by the same district attorney’s office that was prosecuting the defendant.  The court finds it “cannot say Gay’s murder conviction was the product of a trustworthy adversarial process.”

[June 7, 2023 update:  James Queally in the Los Angeles Times — “LAPD officer’s alleged killer stands trial again after conviction in 1983 case was tossed.”]