SF Crime Lab Troubles Could Mean New Trial for Convicted Murderer

Wednesday, Sep 8, 2010  |  Updated 11:00 AM PDT
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SF Crime Lab Troubles Could Mean New Trial for Convicted Murderer

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San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon

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Lawyers for a former San Francisco gang member convicted of three murders told a federal judge Tuesday that they will ask for a new trial on the grounds that some evidence from the case might have be thrown into doubt by the City's ongoing crime lab scandal.

"We'll have a motion that will clearly deal with laboratory science issues," defense attorney John Philipsborn told U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney in San Francisco.

Chesney scheduled a Nov. 19 hearing on the motion in the case of former Page Street Gang member Dennis Cyrus, 26. She also tentatively scheduled Cyrus' sentencing for that date, subject to whether she grants the bid for a new trial.

A jury in Chesney's court convicted Cyrus last year of 16 federal crimes, including racketeering conspiracy, cocaine conspiracy and possession and three gang-related murders committed in 2002.

Prosecutors said the gang used violence, intimidation and murder to protect its turf in the Western Addition neighborhood for selling crack cocaine and other drugs. The murder convictions made Cyrus eligible for a rare federal death penalty, but the jury opted instead for a sentence of life in prison without possibility of release.

Cyrus' defense attorneys have said in court filings that some of  his convictions could be undermined by recently disclosed problems with the  drug analysis unit of the San Francisco police crime laboratory and former technician Deborah Madden.

Madden is suspected of stealing small amounts of cocaine from the  facility, although she has not been criminally charged with doing so, and also allegedly told investigators there was "sloppy work" done at the drug  unit in general.

The police laboratory analyzed the cocaine used in Cyrus' federal case, and Madden was one of seven present and former lab technicians who testified.

Federal prosecutors have now given Cyrus' lawyers 4,200 pages of material about the laboratory, which they obtained from San Francisco police after the trial, for use in preparing the new trial motion.

Chesney turned down a bid Tuesday by defense attorneys to require federal authorities to look even further into problems with the laboratory.

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