Darcius Butler

Santa Clara County, California
Date of Crime:  2001

“Just one month out of prison, Darcius Butler was arrested and then convicted on robbery charges, although the evidence was thin.  Two years later, an appellate panel overturned the conviction because the prosecution twice indicated that Butler was on parole – despite a judge’s order not to do so.”

“After police traced her license plate, the driver of the getaway car in a 2001 San Jose home-invasion robbery agreed to testify against the robbers. Vanessa Sousa identified three of the four. Of the fourth, she told police he ‘might have been the brother’ of the other African-American robber, Thomas Butler.  Police discovered that Darcius Butler had just been paroled for a drug-possession conviction. Darcius Butler insisted he was at a family gathering at the time of the robbery, and family members vouched for him.”

“Lisa Stuffel, a victim of the robbery, selected Darcius Butler from a photo lineup, saying he ‘looks like’ the stocky black man with braids who pointed a gun at her.  The other victims were unable to identify him in the lineup, and Sousa said she could not be sure.  But the prosecution proceeded.  By the time of the trial, Stuffel’s son and daughter also were saying Butler was one of the robbers.”

“Judge Alden Danner prohibited references to Darcius Butler’s parole status because it could bias the jury against him.  Danner’s order was violated twice.  Seeking to establish that Butler did not wear braids at the time of the robbery, Butler’s lawyer asked a police investigator what he knew about the timing of a recent haircut.  ‘I spoke with his parole agent,’ the investigator said. Prosecutor Charles Slone mentioned ‘Agent Houston’ again in his closing argument.  Danner told the jury each time to ignore the reference.  Butler was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison.”

“Two years later, a 6th District appellate panel declared that the mention of Butler’s parole status ‘irreparably damaged’ the trial.  So weak was the evidence against him that it was ‘reasonably probable’ he would have been found not guilty in a fair trial, the court said.”

“As prosecutors considered whether to retry Butler, their case grew weaker.  Two of the convicted robbers gave declarations saying that Butler was not part of their group.  Stuffel and one other witness told a defense investigator they were not certain of their identifications.  Butler passed a polygraph test.  The Mercury News confronted the district attorney’s office with the new evidence.”

“Prosecutors decided to offer Butler a deal: Plead guilty to false imprisonment, a lesser felony crime, and leave prison immediately. Butler accepted after his attorney advised him not to run the risk, however small, of a second conviction.  ‘I believe my client was innocent, and that makes it impossible to feel good about this outcome,’ attorney Patrick Kelly said.” – Mercury News

Reference:   People v. Butler

Posted in:  Victims of the State, San Francisco Bay Area Cases