July 25, 2014

Elyria
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Defense attorney: Prosecutors led crash witnesses to omit testimony

ELYRIA — Defense attorney Mike Duff has accused two assistant county prosecutors of coaching witnesses in a juvenile vehicular homicide case to leave out a key piece of evidence when they testified earlier this month.

Duff wrote in a motion seeking a mistrial that two passengers in the vehicle were told not to tell Lorain County Juvenile Magistrate Steve List that the teenager killed in the Feb. 27, 2012, accident had grabbed the wheel just before the 1999 Ford Escort his client was driving crashed.

“The prosecutor pursued a conviction rather than the truth,” Duff said Monday following the conclusion of testimony in the trial of 19-year-old Laniqua Lusane. “Their job is to pursue the truth, not a conviction. They played hide-and-seek with the justice system.”

Lusane was 17 years old when she lost control of her westbound car on state Route 2, according to court documents. She later told Ohio Highway Patrol troopers that she was speeding and that the car veered out of the lane and onto the rumble strips on the side of the road.

The front-seat passenger in the vehicle, 16-year-old Alexandra Clifford, grabbed the wheel and pulled the vehicle to the right, according to court filings. Lusane pulled the steering wheel back and lost control of the Escort, which went off the side of the road, hit an embankment and went airborne.

The car hit several trees, including one that punched through the floor, before it came to a stop. Lusane, Clifford and the two back seat passengers Tyrell Hicks and Lucius Johnson, were all injured in the crash. Clifford’s injuries proved fatal.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he disagrees with Duff’s assertion that the two prosecutors originally handling the case, Jay Grunda and Adam Bryda, were trying to hide the information. He also said he doesn’t see how it would negatively impact Lusane’s ability to receive a fair trial since Clifford’s actions were already part of the record in the case.

“I don’t know what the prejudice is that anybody suffered,” Will said.

He said Duff was well aware that the witnesses in the case had all told troopers that Clifford had grabbed the wheel. He said it was mentioned not only in witness statements but also in court filings.

Will said his office tried to suppress that information from being considered in the case because there was no proof that Clifford grabbing the wheel was the direct cause of the accident. List rejected the request to bar the information last year, but agreed to revisit the matter during the trial, according to court records.

Will said Grunda and Bryda told Hicks and Johnson that “we’re not going to ask you, but if someone else asks, you have to tell the truth.”

Duff said that’s not what Johnson testified he and Hicks were told by prosecutors.

In a partial transcript of the hearing attached to a motion filed last week requesting a mistrial, Duff asked Johnson about the conversation he and Hicks had with prosecutors.

“I’m asking you, did this prosecutor tell you not to mention that Ali grabbed the wheel? Did he tell you that?” Duff asked in the transcript.

“Yes, sir,” Johnson replied.

Later in the transcript, Johnson testified that prosecutors told Hicks the same thing.

Despite Duff’s request for a mistrial, List resumed the trial Monday, but with Assistant County Prosecutor Freddie Springfield handling the case.

Will said his understanding is Springfield taking over the case had nothing to do with a belief that Grunda and Bryda had done anything improper. He said it was because Springfield, as their supervisor, wanted to handle the matter herself.

List rejected requests from Will’s office to continue the trial and to prevent further discussion of how prosecutors prepared their witnesses to testify.

Duff said he believes that at the very least Grunda and Bryda committed ethical violations, although he stopped short of saying the pair had committed a crime. He said the end result is that Lusane’s right to a fair trial has been hindered by what he believes was an effort by prosecutors to conceal evidence that would have helped his client’s case.

“While it would be overreaching to accuse the Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys of suborning perjury, the result of coaching witnesses to misrepresent the facts of this case through omission is the functional equivalent as a constitutional matter,” he wrote.

Duff said that with the conclusion of testimony in the case, both sides will file written arguments on their positions and then List will rule on whether Lusane should be convicted of vehicular homicide and negligent assault.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.

  • Razorback Twou

    “Will said his office tried to suppress that information from being
    considered in the case because there was no proof that Clifford grabbing
    the wheel was the direct cause of the accident” She wreaked a car and killed someone because of it. How much proof do you need? I think this clowns fight with judges is affecting his job.

    • BITTERCLINGER36

      Umm, one statement is not proof of anything. Both sides suppress information, that may be why there are such things as suppression hearing……You should grow up and try to learn how the system actually works. Notice the defense is not saying that the prosecutor with held information from the defense during discovery, only that they (claim) that someone was told to leave something out of testimony. It is the defense’s job to defend and the prosecutor’s job to prosecute.

  • golfingirl

    Been a while since I saw a “Grunda” in the news.

    Wondered how they were all doing.

  • Sandra Hardy

    The fact the the decedent impeded normal operation of the vehicle has to be considered and the prosecutor does not have necessary expertise to determine how much her actions contributed to the accident. I have great sympathy for decedent and her family; however, responsibility and blame should be assessed to all responsible. Grabbing the steering wheel did contribute to this accident and anyone with common sense and that drives understands that so it should absolutely be considered for the finding that will impact outcome and verdict of the juvenile jury trial.

    • BITTERCLINGER36

      That is not a fact, it is an assertion that the dead person did anything. Very easy argument to win when the person you are accusing is dead…..they can’t really rebut your attempt at exigent circumstances can they?

    • Know the facts

      Trust me….this article is not completely accurate!!!! Also would love to mention Lusane was doing at least 80 MPH

      • Ashleigh Vasi

        100MPH to be exact

  • givemeabreak1234

    Yes, ALL facts in this case should have been considered. As usual Dennis Will continues to do whatever he can legal or not to win a case then when it doesn’t go his way its all the judges fault. When in the h@ll are people going to realize that this Napoleon syndrome is affecting his ability to do a proper job?

    • BITTERCLINGER36

      A fact is something proven to be true…..a statement is just that, a statement. This is the defense grasping at, rather inventing, straws to grab at. You watch too much tv.

      • givemeabreak1234

        Napoleon.

  • Sandra Hardy

    I respect that we all have an opinion. If you were on trial, wouldn’t you like for the jury to have all the facts to consider when they were determining your innocence or guilt and when they consider your punishment? I am not grasping at strays the article clearly states that Ms. Clifford did grab the steering wheel was presented as statements by the other two occupants of the car and that it had been entered into the record in previous hearings. Reading is fundamental.
    Ms. Clifford suffered the ultimate price but just like in any other automobile accident parties are assessed various levels of contributory fault and that is what is industry standard. Also, if you were driving even if it was at the legally posted speed and someone suddenly grabbed the wheel as an experienced driver wouldn’t your reaction be shock…it does not regularly happen!

  • guest16

    Ms. Clifford, as you call her, is my niece. Allie was beautiful, funny, outgoing, supportive, creative, loving, independent.. I could go on and on. She was a daughter, a sister, aunt, grand daughter, great-grand daughter, and friend to many. With all the comments and opinions from people that didn’t know her I thought I would let you all know what a wonderful person we lost on that fateful day. A day no one in this family will ever forget and will haunt us forever.