Can I Be Convicted of a Crime Based Solely on Accomplice Testimony?

November 2nd, 2018 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense

Many criminal cases are based on the testimony of an alleged accomplice. Prosecutors frequently convince an accomplice to cooperate in exchange for leniency. Because this creates the potential for a conflict of interest, Texas law requires some corroboration of the accomplice testimony in order to convict the defendant. This corroborating evidence need not, standing on its own, prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, it only needs to “link the defendant to the commission of the offense” at issue.

Former Houston DA Investigator Faces 5 Years for Stealing Comic Books

A recent decision by an appeals court here in Houston illustrates how the corroborating evidence rule works in practice. This particular case, Deutsch v. State, involves a fairly unusual crime–the alleged theft of comic books by a former police investigator. And the accomplice was another police investigator.

This case actually began when the general counsel at Tadano America, a well-known seller of boom trucks and cranes based here in Houston, discovered through an internal audit that his predecessor had embezzled nearly $9 million from the company. The previous general counsel used the money to purchase a variety of items for himself, including approximately $200,000 in rare comic books. At Tadano’s request, the Harris County District Attorney opened a criminal investigation.

The defendant in this case was assigned as the lead investigator on the case. According to a former assistant district attorney who testified at trial, the defendant had access to a locked storage unit containing the comic books. The attorney said the defendant failed to photograph the comic books as part of the normal process of inventorying evidence.

The defendant’s accomplice, another investigator who was not directly assigned to the Todano case, testified he and the defendant stole the comic books from the storage unit over the course of two days. The accomplice said the comic books were placed in his vehicle, and that he subsequently sold them at conventions. The accomplice then paid the defendant in cash for his “share” of the money.

The FBI ultimately arrested the accomplice. In exchange for cooperating with the investigation and pleading guilty to federal crimes, prosecutors agreed not to pursue additional state charges against the accomplice. As part of that deal, the accomplice testified against the defendant.

A Texas state jury found the defendant guilty of “theft by a public servant in an amount of over $200,000.” The trial court sentenced the defendant to 5 years in prison. On appeal, the defendant argued there was insufficient corroboration of his accomplice’s testimony. The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals disagreed. It noted that “several witnesses confirmed” the defendant was the lead investigator in the Tadano case and was the “only person” who had access to the comic books before they were stolen. There was also substantial evidence documenting the longtime relationship between the defendant and the accomplice, all of which was enough to corroborate the accomplice testimony.

Speak with a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If police and prosecutors believe you are involved in a crime, even tangentially, you may be facing serious charges. That is why you need to engage an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney early in the process. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Galveston or League City today if you need immediate advice or assistance with any criminal defense matter. Call (281) 280-0100.

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