Citing "Prosecutorial Misconduct", Judge Vacates Rape Verdict
March 12, 2021
By Jon King / firstname.lastname@example.org
The guilty verdict of a Brighton-area man for raping a teenage girl at a golf course has been vacated by a local judge.
In court Thursday morning, Livingston County Judge Michael Hatty read a ten-page opinion from the bench concerning the verdict against 22-year-old Zachary Lally of Green Oak Township. Lally’s attorneys had sought a new trial based on allegations that Assistant Prosecutor Pamela Maas solicited perjured testimony from a detective in the case. Hatty referenced several examples of what he termed “prosecutorial misconduct” that resulted in Lally “being denied a fair and impartial trial.” He then concluded that a new trial was warranted.
Hatty also reinstated a $500,000 bond for Lally, who has been held in the Livingston County Jail since the initial guilty verdict in March of 2020 on three counts of 1st-degree criminal sexual conduct and two lesser charges. Those charges stemmed from an October 2018 incident involving a teenage girl who worked at Oak Pointe Golf Course. The victim had testified that she got into a golf cart with Lally, who she said had been drinking, to go search for a deer that had been spotted earlier. She said when they got to a stand of trees; Lally forced himself onto her, at first trying to kiss her, but then pushing her to the ground and raping her. She said he again tried to assault her later that same night but was interrupted by other club members.
After the verdict, but before sentencing could be carried out, Howell attorney Tom Kizer and fellow defense attorney Rolland Sizemore filed a brief alleging Maas solicited perjured testimony from a Livingston County Sheriff's detective. Specifically, Kizer alleged that during the trial, a conversation between Maas and Livingston County Sheriff's Det. Greg Thompson was caught on tape between proceedings in which Thompson indicated that he had forgotten his prior testimony as to why Lally's clothes had not been sent to the Michigan State Police Crime Lab to test for possible DNA. Mass reportedly said they had sufficient evidence without the testing and instructed Thompson to, "just say that we discussed it.” When the trial resumed, Detective Thompson gave that exact answer when questioned by Maas, and then again the next day under cross-examination by Sizemore.
Once presented with a recording of the conversation with Maas, the detective said his memory had been “refreshed” but before he could testify about his conversation with Maas, she objected. Sizemore then stated, “I want to be very clear with the Court, I don’t think Ms. Maas has done anything inappropriate.” However, Hatty ruled that despite that statement, and despite Lally’s attorneys making no motions for a continuance or mistrial, the standard for the Court is whether such conduct resulted in either the conviction of an innocent defendant or that the “error seriously affected the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings independent of defendant’s innocence.”
Based on that standard, Hatty found that Maas “improperly influenced” the detective’s testimony, and that the testimony in question was “false” and that Maas knew it was false. Further, Judge Hatty determined that statements from Maas during closing arguments that male DNA had definitively been detected on evidence in the case was not supported by the facts, and that in reality, a crime lab expert had only testified that such findings were possible, but not conclusive. Hatty called it a “false statement” to the jury related to “critical information at issue in this case – DNA evidence.” Based on those conclusions, Hatty said Lally had been denied a fair and impartial trial and a new trial was warranted.
Kizer told WHMI that the ruling, “exposes the intentional misconduct and perhaps even criminal behavior of a lead detective and former chief assistant Prosecutor.”
When asked to comment on the implications of the ruling in regard to Detective Thompson, Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy issued a statement. “There are many facets to this investigation and now new trial. When this issue was brought to light initially by Mr. Kizer, we asked the Michigan State Police to conduct an independent investigation to ferret out any possible criminal charges. That investigation, and our internal investigation are still ongoing, so for me to comment further would be inappropriate.”
While a pre-trial hearing in the matter is set for April 9th, Danielle Walton, an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Oakland County, tells WHMI that they will appeal the ruling. “We respectfully disagree with the decision to order a new trial and plan to file an appeal.”
Walton was appointed to represent Maas by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office after then-Livingston County Prosecutor Bill Vailliencourt recused his office for purposes of the defense motion. The case has since been assigned permanently to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office.
If convicted on the charges, Lally faces life in prison.