New trial for convicted murdererWritten by Myndi Milliken | | email@example.com
Jamie Madrigal, sentenced to death for the 1996 slaying of 16-year-old Misty Fisher, will have a new trial after a federal appeals court overturned his conviction and sentence, and Toledo detectives say they are unhappy with the way a local TV news station handled crucial evidence. Federal Judge James S. Gwin ordered the new trial after ruling jurors in Madrigal’s original trial were privy to hearsay confessions of co-defendant Chris Cathcart, potentially tainting their opinions by implicating Madrigal in the slaying.
The new trial is scheduled for Feb. 21; a pre-trial hearing will begin next month. Cathcart, who was also convicted in the Fisher murder case, was indicted Sept. 20 on charges of aggravated robbery and involuntary manslaughter in the slaying of Larry Loose on April 30, 1995.
In cold blood
On April 12, 1996, a robber killed Clay High School senior Misty Fisher as she was working at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in South Toledo. Around 8:15 p.m., a man entered the restaurant and demanded Fisher open the safe while holding a gun to her head. When Fisher told the man she could not get the safe open, he shot her in the back of the head and fled. Fisher died en route to the hospital.
Police received a crime-stoppers tip that Jamie Madrigal was involved in the crime, obtained a search warrant, and seized clothing, a revolver and a bullet.
On May 13, 1996, the Lucas County grand jury indicted Madrigal, charging him with one count of aggravated murder with the death specification (the aggravated murder occurred during an aggravated robbery) and one count of aggravated robbery. Each count of the indictment contained a firearm specification. On Oct. 7, 1996, Madrigal’s trial began in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas. The trial continued until Oct. 22, 1996. On that date, the jury convicted Madrigal on all charges. After receiving the guilty verdicts, the trial court began the mitigation phase. On Oct. 24, 1996, the jury recommended Madrigal be put to death. On Nov. 25, 1996, the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas accepted the jury’s recommendation and sentenced Madrigal to death.
Since then, Madrigal, who is in the Mansfield Correctional Institution, has filed numerous appeals with the courts. Until Gwin’s decision, all appeals had been denied.
A new trial for Madrigal means detectives and Lucas County prosecutors will have to organize a second case against him. Dean Mandros, criminal division chief for the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, said police targeted an April 2003 interview of Madrigal from prison, conducted by WTVG-TV, Channel 13. In this interview, Mandros said, Madrigal contended he didn’t kill Fisher, but admits he was at the KFC at the time of the murder.
”We had known about the tape for some time because the reporter had spoken with our detectives on the case,” Mandros said. ”We were told at the time that a lot more was said than what was shown on TV, and that we might be interested in it.”
Mandros said Madrigal’s admission that he was at the scene of the crime could be an important piece of evidence. ”We put Channel 13 on notice a couple of years ago not to destroy the tape, as it was evidence,” he said.
Mandros said WTVG refused to cooperate with a subpoena issued in August to turn over the two-hour interview, in its entirety, over to police. WTVG hired attorney Fritz Byers.
”Their lawyer indicated they wanted to contest the propriety under some theory of privilege for the press,” Mandros said. ”He had a legitimate question to raise, but it wasn’t from an anonymous source. They had nothing to protect.”
Mandros said WTVG asked for time to file a motion to suppress the subpoena earlier this year. He said they agreed on Aug. 30.
”They never filed,” he said. ”They’re saying we agreed to give them to Sept. 30 to respond. That was never the agreement.”
Mandros said he didn’t think too much of the lack of cooperation until a police officer told him WTVG had promoted the interview on the air and posted the interview in its entirety on its Web site.
”Conversation from Death Row” was the title of the Web story, dated Sept. 29, ”A convicted killer on death row talks about the crime and maintains his innocence.” The story continued, ”One central question for his new trial is whether Madrigal was present at the scene at the time of the murder. In 2003, 13 Action News sat down with Madrigal for an exclusive interview. Reporter Diane Wilson conducted the interview at the Mansfield Correctional Institution. Now, anchor Bill Hormann brings us a new look at that interview, portions of which have never been seen before.
”Madrigal talks about whether he was at the scene of the crime and indicates he may know something about the murder, even while maintaining his innocence. Madrigal says he’s a man wrongly convicted of murder who could die because of it.”
”According to police, a man named Chris Cathcart says he was at the KFC with Madrigal, but fingered Madrigal as the killer. Madrigal implies Cathcart lied to save himself. Madrigal insists he’s the fall guy, a victim of bad lawyers and mistaken identity, a man trapped by the legal system. In our interview, and during his first trial and appeals, he’s maintained he’s not guilty of murder. Meanwhile, prosecutors have subpoenaed the tape of our interview to see and hear for themselves what Madrigal says.”
Mandros responded to the posting with a search warrant and sent officers to secure the tape.
”I think they dragged their feet long enough to make a news story so they would be in front of everyone else,” Mandros said.
WTVG news director Brian Trauring defended the station’s actions.
”We were looking at all options in terms of how we would proceed legally,” he said. ”A decision was made to do an update on the story before we felt the deadline to surrender the tapes occurred with the intent that, as soon as we aired the story, we would invite viewers to look at the entire interview and decide for themselves what they thought of Jamie Madrigal. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding about the deadline. We had dubbed [the tapes] and we intended to turn them over the prosecutor before the end of business that day, after the material aired.”
Trauring said the decision to cooperate with law enforcement is complex for media.
”I’m not anxious to give up material that didn’t air,” he said, comparing outtakes to a newspaper reporter’s notes. ”I don’t think any journalist would. There’s always a concern that press not be viewed as an agent of law enforcement. As soon as you start revealing confidential sources or handing over tapes, people will see you as part of the investigative agency, and that’s not our role.”
One police source said WTVG’s actions have strained relations between police and the media outlet.
”We won’t give them anything extra,” the source said. ”No exclusives. Nothing but what we are required to give.”
Trauring said he is working with police to navigate turning over recent riot footage, a move that may signal better cooperation.
Prosecutor Julia Bates said going through a retrial will be hard on Fisher’s family, especially her father, Ray Fisher.
”He is so full of anger and frustration at the system,” she said. ”The jurors said he [Madrigal] was guilty, the trial judge confirmed it and it has been affirmed by the court of appeals and the Supreme Court.
”We never know what some Monday-morning quarterback judge will say. Now, nine years later, we have to relive this whole thing,” Bates said.