A judge has ordered that the Apache County Attorney’s Office in Arizona be stripped of its prosecution powers, after one of its criminal investigators allegedly pressured a murder suspect to plead guilty, implying if he didn’t he would face the death penalty.
The investigator was former county sheriff Brian Hounshell, who had earlier been stripped of his sheriff duties after he was convicted of felony theft in a corruption case.
If they’re not careful, Arizona sheriffs might start to get a bad name…
Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting was investigating three homicides, and hired Hounshell as one of the investigators last year. According to Dennis Wagner of the Arizona Republic, “Whiting said that within days, Hounshell identified suspects in the murders, leading to a series of confessions.”
One of the suspects, Joseph D. Roberts, was charged with “first-degree murder, conspiracy, concealment of a body and auto theft” before Hounshell visited him in prison and, according to a prison transcript, said: “It will be a tougher road for you… . If you take the risk of a life sentence or lethal injection … that is something you’ll have to deal with.” He also said the prosecutor’s office hadn’t “charged your wife yet. So that’s another situation you may be dealing with at a later date.”
Hounshell did not inform Roberts’ attorney of the meeting.
Superior Court Judge Donna Grimsley ruled yesterday that this violated Roberts’ sixth amendment rights, and transferred the case to another prosecutor.