In his more than three decades of practicing law, attorney Larry Zukerman of Zukerman, Daiker & Lear Co. had never seen a case where law enforcement was caught red-handed suppressing evidence.
“In my 32 years of practicing law, I’ve never experienced a case where it has been caught on videotape and unrefuted,” Zukerman said when asked if he had ever been involved in a case where police had destroyed evidence.
Zukerman was on the defense team for Mark Newton, a former teacher and softball coach at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, who had rape and other charges dismissed by a Cuyahoga County judge May 11 after Judge Nancy Margaret Russo ruled that one of the detectives working on the case, Jessica Page, suppressed evidence. Charges against Newton that were dropped included rape, gross sexual imposition, kidnapping and sexual battery. Prosecutors filed an appeal of the decision on May 12, but Zukerman said the outcome was just and proper.
“Judge Russo issued a well-reasoned and factually supported decision based on the testimony and law,” Zukerman told the Cleveland Jewish News. “I think it’s frightening that the government continues to validate this type of behavior by appealing Judge Russo’s decision. What they should be doing is conducting an independent investigation to determine whether they should prosecute the detective for obstruction of justice, perjury and falsification.”
Zukerman said instead of appealing, the government should be trying to figure out why Page destroyed the evidence and was disappointed in the decision by the government to appeal the dismissal.
“I just think it’s sad that the state continues to try to ignore the realities of the situation that the detective destroyed evidence,” he said. “I think the focus should be on why this happened as opposed to say it doesn’t matter, and I believe it’s the state’s opinion that it’s OK that she destroyed evidence here. And if this standard were adopted by every court, then universal destruction of exculpatory evidence would be OK and that would just trample every defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
In Russo’s 12-page decision, she granted the motion to dismiss all charges, noting Page willfully failed to disclose a second drawing of the room where the attacks were alleged to have occurred which contradicted other evidence. The second drawing was never produced to either prosecutors or the defending attorneys, and Russo further said that had the material been disclosed to the prosecutor’s office, it not only would have benefitted Newton in preparation of his defense, but it also “arguably could have prevented the complaint from being submitted to the grand jury.” Russo commented that Page’s “immediate personal attachment to this Complainant is disturbing, and should cause significant reflection about her ability to faithfully and neutrally carry out her duties.” Russo later notes that Page “has gone so rogue, she even lied to her partner” about the drawing.
Russo also noted in her opinion many examples of Page acting in bad faith and statements advocating for the complainant.
The complainant accused of Newton of attacking her during indoor softball practices in April and May of 2013, when she was then 15 years old. Zuckerman said she initially made the complaint approximately four years ago, but didn’t want to prosecute, and then changed her mind.
The complainant was first interviewed by Shaker Heights Police Department in March 2015, nearly two years after the attacks were alleged to have occurred, and little physical evidence existed.
Zukerman credited the work of fellow defense team lawyers Adam Brown and Paul Daiker as being instrumental in dismissal of the charges. Zukerman also said he wasn’t sure what Newton would do next.
“I don’t know that Mr. Newton has had ample time to process the effect of the dismissal and to clearly determine how he wants to proceed with his future,” Zukerman said. “This has been a four-year nightmare that ended last Thursday. It’s unimaginable to believe someone can falsely accuse someone of something without any evidence whatsoever, and then the state, through its agent, the detective, destroys evidence which can prove his innocence.”