Man Gets 25 To Life In Unfair Trial
No physical evidence links Lester to crime
After hung jury, next jury votes to convict
Witness gets 30 years reduced to 1 year for fingering Lester
This is the story of Gerald Lester. He is currently serving three life terms and one 25 years-to-life sentence for murdering a family of four in 1986 and burning down the house thereafter to destroy evidence. The charges were not filed until 1995.
Originally there was a codefendant. Sometime after Mr. Lester was convicted in 1997, prosecutors dropped all charges on the codefendant.
Mr. Lester was tried three times (the first trial being a death penalty case). The first trial was hung 8-4, with Special Prosecutor Robert Maloney trying the case; thereafter, District Attorney Susan Massini prosecuted the case. The second was hung 11-1; the third trial produced a guilty verdict. All three trials were conducted in Mendocino County, California. The judges were (1) Raul Rosado (retired judge out of San Diego); (2) Frank Petersen; and (3) Ronald Combest.
This case was prosecuted solely on the testimony of "snitches" and "informants". There was absolutely no physical evidence whatsoever, as the victims' bodies were badly burned. The only "evidence" was hearsay from convicts and thugs, most of whom were incarcerated and hoping to shorten their sentences.
In all three trials, prosecutors were able to ask questions (and sometimes elicit answers to questions) which were inadmissible or irrelevant; if they were not able to get answers, they at least got the questions out, which puts the thought in the minds of the jurors. The judges all gave the prosecution much leeway; defense motions were continually denied.
This matter becamse a serious political issue in Mendocino County. After the first trial ended in a hung jury at a great cost to the county, the matter was tried again without the death penalty; word was at the deliberations in the second trial, a juror was noted as saying "We've got to get this guy once and for all." It was later learned that this juror was not even a resident of the county in which the trials were held.
At one of the trials, a juror was admonished for "dozing".
When the main informant got off the stand in one of the trials, the prosecutor herself stepped up to him and gleefully shook his hand, thanking him for his testimony in the matter in front of the jury. Another main prosecution witness was facing a thirty-year prison sentence for attempted murder on a police officer. This man did one year in an Arkansas jail after ramming a sheriff's vehicle and is now living free.
The conviction at the third trial in 1997 was the result of a slam dunk by the prosecution -- by that time the case was very high profile and a lot of money had been spent on the prosecution and defense of this case. Public consensus was that the only way it would "go away" would be to convict Mr. Lester.
Gerald Lester was convicted solely on the testimony of convicts having something to gain by giving false testimony. There was no physical evidence linking him to this crime, nor did he get a fair trial. He has a loving wife, daughter and family waiting for him on the outside.
Story submitted by Rachel Howard
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