In March 1993, Agent Keith Ray, an undercover agent for the South Central Drug Task Force, and an informant went to a residence in Prescott, Nevada to complete a drug buy.
Agent Ray purchased $50 of cocaine from a man inside. Ray then described the seller to the informant, who had not witnessed the buy, but had seen the man. The informant told Ray that the seller may have been Rodney Mitchell. Ray claimed that he eliminated Mitchell as a suspect after he viewed photos of Mitchell obtained from the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department.
In March 1994, in Clark County, Ray again set up an undercover drug transaction working with a second informant. This time, Ray gave the informant $125 to purchase several rocks of crack cocaine. The informant then purchased the cocaine from a man he knew as “Rodney.”
During the buy, Ray positioned himself so that he could see the seller. He recognized the seller as the suspect from the March 1993 transaction and took down the license plate of the suspect’s car.
The plate led to Rodney Bragg. Ray claimed that he contacted the local sheriff’s office to obtain a photo of Bragg taken during a previous arrest, and confirmed that Bragg was the seller in the March 1993 transaction. Bragg was arrested and charged only for the March 1993 transaction.
Ray provided the key testimony at Bragg’s trial and, in January 1996, a jury convicted Bragg of delivery of a controlled substance. Although he had no prior convictions, he was sentenced to the maximum sentence of life in prison and fined $25,000.
Several years later, Bragg sued to recover his car, which had been seized because it had been used in an illegal drug transaction. In the course of the suit, Bragg obtained Ray’s investigative notes.
The notes, dated March 1, 1994, detailed Ray’s observation of the deal, his recording of the license plate, and his identification of Bragg through the plate number and photo. However, Bragg had did not purchase or registere the car that Ray claimed to have seen and traced to Bragg by plate number until March 22, 1994, more than three weeks later.
In addition, the photos that Ray claimed to have used to identify Bragg were not available until June 21, 1994, almost two months later. Finally, Bragg obtained a statement from the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department that no photographs of Rodney Mitchell were ever on file; thus Ray could not have used them to exclude Mitchell as a suspect.
Based on this newly discovered information, Bragg filed a pro se habeas corpus petition with the United States District Court. Bragg also argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for his failure to interview key witnesses who could have exonerated him. The court appointed an attorney for Bragg and held an evidentiary hearing.
At the hearing, Ray admitted that he lied when he testified that he excluded Mitchell as a suspect through photographs from the Sheriff’s Department. He also lied about his identification of Bragg from photos in June or July 1994. Ray also admitted that he had falsely testified that the informant had seen the seller in the March 1993 transaction.
In December 2000, the United States District Court found that Ray’s testimony was false, that the prosecution should have known that it was false, and that the prosecution should have obtained and turned over to the defense the investigator’s notes and the evidence that no photos of Mitchell or Bragg existed in March 1994. The court vacated Bragg’s conviction and he was released. The state did not appeal and Ray resigned.
In 2006, Bragg was awarded $200,000 in compensation through the Nevada State Claims Commission. It was the first time the Commission recommended that the legislature pay a wrongly convicted defendant.
- Stephanie Denzel