A year after being booted from a murder case because of prosecutorial missteps, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office is again being accused of falsifying evidence. Deputy Public Defender Sara Ross alleges local prosecutors used a faulty police report from the California Highway Patrol to earn a murder conviction in the high-profile 2006 traffic death of off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy David Piquette.
The allegations stem from a July 2006 traffic accident when Cole Wilkens was driving a truck laden with stolen appliances down Hwy 91, allegedly the cargo was unsecured with the tailgate down. At some point, one of the boxes containing a $1,500 stove fell from the truck and onto the traffic lanes.
Wilkens was initially unaware of the loss and continued on his route until he was pulled over several miles away by an irate motorist. Meanwhile, while cars immediately behind Wilkens were able to safely maneuver around the large object, two later cars collided with those vehicles attempting to evade the road hazard. One of those collisions resulted in the death of Deputy Piquette. The deputy swerved into a tractor-trailer, the heavy truck flipped and crushed Piquette’s vehicle.
Early police reports of the incident found Piquette to be at fault for the collision due to his driving at unsafe speeds above posted limits. Both CHP Investigator Michael Bernardin and CHP officer John Heckenkemper confirmed in their reports that driver error was the cause of both collisions.
However, court records detail that CHP administrators altered these initial findings to create a faulty police report that shifted the blame from the drivers to Wilkins. Such a designation in the updated faulty police report enabled prosecutors to argue that because Wilkens caused the fatal accident during his commission of a felony, he was also guilty of murder.
No information about the altered and thus faulty police report was relayed to the defense for Wilkins’ 2008 trial, nor did the jury ever hear that officers and investigators at the scene found the drivers at fault, not Wilkins. The jury found Wilkins guilty of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to 26 years in life.
That conviction was overturned by the California Supreme Court in 2013 on another prosecutorial misstep, yet today’s prosecutors continue to push for a retrial on the murder charge.
Click here for more information about auto accidents and what to do with a faulty police report.
Source: OC Register, 15 Aug 2016.