On June 9, 2003, a felony complaint was filed against 43-year-old Daniel Pickett in Butte County, California, charging him with two counts of committing a lewd act upon his nieces, a nine-year-old girl and her 11-year-old sister. He was also charged with forcing the 11-year-old girl to view a pornographic image on a computer.
Pickett went on trial on March 18, 2004 before a jury. Both victims testified that he touched them inappropriately.
After the girls testified and returned to their home in Nevada, Butte County Deputy District Attorney Leo Barone moved to introduce into evidence a photograph of an image of a nude couple engaged in sex that he said came from Pickett’s computer and was the image Pickett showed to the 11-year-old.
Jodea Foster, Pickett’s attorney, objected to the admission of the image because Barone had not asked the girl to identify it during her testimony. The trial judge was concerned that there was no testimony that the photograph was the one the victim saw.
Barone said that in fact the photograph was the one showed to the girl and allowed the court and Foster to believe it was the same one the girl claimed she had seen prior to trial.
On March 23, 2004, Pickett was convicted by a jury of one count of committing a lewd act upon a child and one count of exposing a minor to harmful matter.
Before he was sentenced, an employee of the Butte County District Attorney’s office notified the District Attorney, Michael Ramsey, that Barone had withheld information from the defense.
The investigation revealed that the girls’ father, a deputy sheriff who lived in Nevada and was involved in a custody dispute with his wife, who lived in Butte County, had told Barone prior to trial that the nine-year-old girl was unreliable and had made false accusations of sexual abuse in the past.
The investigation also revealed that prior to trial, Barone and an investigator showed the photograph to the 11-year-old and she said she had not seen the photograph before. No report of the girl’s statement was made and Foster was not informed of the girl’s statement.
During the investigation, Barone was confronted with his actions regarding the photograph and asserted that Foster had never objected to admission of the photograph on the basis that the girl had not been asked on the witness stand if she had seen it. That statement was false.
When the new evidence was disclosed, Ramsey requested that the charges be dismissed and Barone was suspended.
In 2005, Barone was suspended from the practice of law for one year by the California Supreme Court.
– Maurice Possley