Flagrantly ineffective

OK, we know News Hits is reading like a law review this week. Our bad. But there’s so much juicy stuff. We simply must disclose that U.S. District Court Judge Paul Gadola went beyond what’s normally required in ruling last week that Westland mother-of-two Kylleen Hargrave-Thomas’ original defense counsel was woefully ineffective.

Gadola, who ordered that prosecutors set a new trial date within 90 days or free Hargrave-Thomas for good, vacated the 49-year-old’s murder conviction and sentence “because trial counsel were manifestly and flagrantly ineffective” in her 1993 case. A judge found Hargrave-Thomas guilty of offing her fiance, Joe Bernal, who was stabbed once in the heart as he slept before his bed was set aflame in October 1993.

Prosecutors based the case on circumstantial evidence and failed to disclose 500 pages of evidence that might have aided Hargrave-Thomas’ defense. But as Gadola stated in his ruling, it probably wouldn’t have mattered since defense counsel failed to do anything to “investigate or present evidence, call witnesses or even make an opening statement” in Hargrave-Thomas’ defense.

Gadola said he probably wouldn’t have believed much of the “less than overwhelming” evidence the original prosecutor presented, but said that the law didn’t allow him to order a retrial on that basis.

“This was a very strong opinion,” says Hargrave-Thomas’s lawyer, Andrea Lyon. “Which is good, because it means it’s much less likely the Sixth Circuit will overturn the decision if it is appealed.”

At this point, she doesn’t know if that will happen.

“I don’t know what the Prosecutor’s Office is planning to do, because they’re not returning anybody’s phone calls, including mine.”

Just how weak the prosecution’s case is can be deduced in part from what Lyon charitably called a “quite odd” written argument made by prosecutor Joseph Puleo. His theory: Hargrave-Thomas must have committed the murder since she was the victim of sexual abuse as a child, and the knife used to kill Bernal was designed to bone fish, otherwise known as a “boner,” indicating that Hargrave was obviously acting out some sort of psychosexual crime.

Lyon hopes that someone “higher up” in the Prosecutor’s Office will review the case and, if not drop it altogether, at least go straight to trial rather than stretch things out by appealing Gadola’s ruling.

“They can drag this out for a long time if they want,” says Lyon. “Hasn’t she suffered enough? She’s already missed so much of her life, I just want her to be able to go home.”

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