December 18, 2014

Elyria
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Defense attorney claims prosecutor misconduct in trial for crash that killed teen

ELYRIA — Neither prosecutors nor defense attorney Mike Duff dispute that Alexandra Clifford grabbed the wheel of the 1999 Ford Escort she was a front-seat passenger in just before the 2012 crash that claimed her life.

But Duff contends that assistant Lorain County prosecutors Jay Grunda and Adam Bryda tried to cover up that fact during the juvenile court trial of Laniqua Lusane, the now-19-year-old woman who was behind the wheel when the crash occurred.

Duff said Tuesday that he will take his allegations that Grunda and Bryda told two other passengers in the vehicle not to mention the wheel grab during Lusane’s trial last month to the Ohio Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which is responsible for investigating allegations of attorney misconduct.

“The core issue is simple: whether this Court will allow the Assistant Prosecutors to drag this Court into the legal cesspool of perjured testimony given by witnesses coached and induced to do so by the unethical Assistant Prosecutors,” Duff wrote in a court filing asking Juvenile Magistrate Steve List to declare a mistrial.

Duff had previously asked List to declare a mistrial in the case of Lusane, who is charged with vehicular homicide after Lucius Johnson testified last month that prosecutors had told both him and Tyrell Hicks not to mention that Clifford, who was 16 when she died, had grabbed the wheel. List declined to grant that request.

Lusane, who was 17 at the time, was driving west on state Route 2 when she lost control of the vehicle on Feb. 27, 2012. She admitted that she was speeding and the car veered out of the lane and onto rumble strips.

Clifford then grabbed the steering wheel, pulling the vehicle to the right. Court documents indicate that Lusane pulled the wheel back and lost control, sending the Escort off the side of the road, where it hit an embankment and went airborne before hitting several trees.

Prosecutors argue that there was nothing improper about them meeting with Hicks and Johnson before the trial and explaining the questions they were going to ask.

Assistant County Prosecutor Freddie Springfield, who took over the trial after Grunda and Bryda removed themselves from the case, called the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct “absurd and inaccurate” in her own court filing.

Springfield wrote that the witnesses were told to testify truthfully, although Grunda told them that they did not intend to bring up the issue of the wheel pull.

Prosecutors unsuccessfully tried to convince List to bar the information about Clifford’s actions from the trial, although List had said he would reconsider the request during the trial.

“Because the men looked confused as to what they were being told, Assistant Prosecutor Bryda reiterated that the Assistant Prosecutors were not planning on bringing up the wheel pull,” Springfield wrote. “Finally, Attorney Grunda told the witnesses to answer the questions asked of them on cross-examination and to be honest.”

County Prosecutor Dennis Will said there was no effort to hide the information.

During the trial, Duff argued that Lusane wasn’t responsible for the accident because Clifford grabbed the wheel, something prosecutors have disputed, arguing that it was Lusane’s speeding and reckless driving that caused the crash.

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