A Troubled Rape Case 

The high-profile rape charges against Deputy District Attorney Michael Gressett are tainted by questionable facts, unorthodox prosecutorial conduct, and the unmistakable whiff of politics.

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The California Department of Occupational Safety and Health agrees. "An employer has a responsibility to take action," said spokesman Dean Fryer. "The police should have been notified immediately in this case. It's a high-risk situation that puts women in the office in harm's way."

Instead, Kochly and Sequeira allowed Gressett — who was never notified of Jane Doe's allegations — to continue prosecuting sex crimes and freely roam the office where he interacted with female attorneys, staffers, and sex-crime victims. The DA's office didn't notify the Martinez police of the allegations until September 25, more than four and a half months after the assault, and Gressett wasn't arrested until October 2, nearly five months after the alleged assault. The delay was striking given the DA's subsequent assertion that Gressett is a violent rapist who should be locked away for life.

Once the DA's office concluded that Jane Doe's accusations had value, it began a three-agency investigation on September 26 with Sequeira as the lead investigator. But Sequeira was an odd choice to lead the investigation. It was known throughout the office that he had been hostile toward Gressett and Mark Peterson since both men challenged Kochly in the 2002 election. After Kochly was elected, he promoted Sequeira, who had actively campaigned for him and contributed the maximum amount to his campaign. Since then, as the office's number three administrator, Sequeira has stood in the way of Gressett's promotions, Cardoza said.

But the coming election puts Sequeira's powerful position in jeopardy. Longtime Deputy District Attorney Peterson, a Concord city councilman who was Gressett's supervisor in the sexual assault unit, is running for district attorney. Several deputy DAs believe that if Peterson wins, Sequeira's fall from grace will be swift and possibly humiliating. "If Mark Peterson becomes our next DA," said one deputy DA, "you can bet that Paul Sequeira will spend the rest of his career trying welfare fraud cases, and he knows it."

Peterson, who is known by some co-workers as "The Preacher" because of his strong religious beliefs, has never said he would demote Sequeira if elected. In fact, several of Peterson's supporters noted that Sequeira is one of the office's better attorneys and say it would be counterproductive to demote him to a position beneath his skill level. But they also doubted that Sequeira would remain third in command.

Sometime in October, the district attorney's office handed the case over to the California Attorney General's office to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. But according to a filing by defense attorneys, Sequeira was still in charge of the investigation. He and his colleagues conducted an aggressive investigation in search of evidence against Gressett. They interviewed dozens of people who knew both the suspect and the victim: friends, family members, ex-lovers, and more than twenty of their own deputy district attorneys. Representatives from the Martinez police department, and sometimes the attorney general's office, were present, but they didn't contribute much to the interviews, according to defense attorneys. Kochly also brought in two outside investigators from the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.

One legal scholar told the Contra Costa Times that the DA's office should have stayed out of the investigation completely. "It should be run entirely by the attorney general, even if necessary with help by a DA from another county," said Robert Weisberg, director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. "And if you need any of the internal DA's to work on it, find ones who are as neutral as possible and under unbelievably strict rules. This just smells terrible. Why take the chance on this?"

But despite Sequeira's history with Gressett and Peterson, Kochly put him in charge of the investigation. And Sequeira appears to have brought politics into the inquiry almost immediately. When he swore out Gressett's arrest warrant, he noted in writing that Gressett ran for district attorney three times as though it were a crime.

Gressett's attorneys say Sequeira bullied some of the deputy DAs he interviewed. He threatened known Peterson supporter Doug MacMasters with his job in order to get him to give testimony, according to the transcripts of the interview. Sequeira also was aggressive and hostile during his interview with Peterson, according to defense attorneys. Sequeira went so far off topic during the Peterson interview that when Deputy DA Bob Hole, who assisted in the investigation, listened to the taped interview, he wrote in his notes "no relevance to criminal case," according to evidence obtained by defense attorneys.

After Peterson pointed out that Sequeira had a clear conflict of interest and should not be leading employee interviews, Kochly demoted him from supervisor of the sexual assault unit to attorney in the homicide unit. Peterson declined to discuss the interview other than to say that he'd expressed the opinion that Sequeira's aggressive interviews reeked of impropriety. "I raised my concerns about how the investigation was being handled and I was subsequently demoted."

The demotion shocked several deputy DAs particularly because Peterson had just won a high-profile death penalty case against sex-crime killer Darryl Thomas Kemp for the 1978 murder of Armida Wiltsey while she jogged around Lafayette Reservoir.

Despite the apparent flaws and glaring conflicts of interest on display in the case, the California Attorney General's Office decided to press charges against Gressett. In August, Judge Carlos Ynostroza ruled that Jane Doe would have to testify at a preliminary hearing. Under the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act of 1990, which is designed to reduce the number of times victims have to appear in court, rape victims typically aren't asked to testify at preliminary hearings. But Gressett's attorneys were able to demonstrate enough inconsistencies in Jane Doe's various statements that Ynostroza ruled that they could call her to the witness stand during the preliminary hearing. Defense attorneys were eager to finally question Jane Doe, but Deputy Attorney General Peter Flores Jr. opted to seek an indictment through a grand jury, where jurors would only hear Jane Doe's side of the story.

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