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Jamal Trulove

Other California Cases with Mistaken Witness Identifications
Shortly before 11 p.m. on July 23, 2007, 28-year-old Seu Kuka was fatally shot on the street in a public housing project in San Francisco, California. An autopsy showed he had been shot nine times—six times in the right side of the head. Seven of the nine gunshot wounds were distance shots.

Although there were as many as 30 people on the street at the time of the shooting, most fled at the sound of the gunshots. Only one eyewitness came forward—24-year-old Priscilla Lualemaga—who told police she saw the shooting from a second floor window. She said that she first heard shouting and looked out the window and saw Kuka, a distant relative of hers, chasing a man around a car. She said that during the chase Kuka bumped into another man and knocked him down.

Lualemaga said that the man who was knocked down got up and chased Kuka on a street that sloped downhill, caught up to him, and began shooting at Kuka from close range.

Police took Lualemaga to a police station where she was taken to a room and asked to look at a bulletin board containing 34 different mugshots. She identified a photograph of Joshua Bradley as the man Kuka was chasing around the car.

Lualemaga recognized many other people on this wall of photographs as people who lived in the neighborhood. However, during the two hours she was in the room, she did not identify the picture that was immediately above Bradley’s photograph—that of Bradley’s brother, Jamal Trulove. David Bradley, another brother of Joshua and Jamal, was also pictured among the photos.

Two days later, police came to Lualemaga’s place of work and told her that they had identified the gunman and wanted her to look at a photographic lineup. In the lineup were photographs of Joshua, David Bradley and Trulove, who was wearing a bright orange sweatshirt, as well as two non-suspects and a friend of the three brothers. At the time, Trulove was an aspiring rapper from Oakland, California, who had just finished taping an episode of a reality shown known as “I Love New York 2.”

Lualemaga, having been told by the detectives that one of the men was the gunman, said that Trulove “looks like the guy who could have shot” Kuka. She again identified Joshua Bradley as the man Kuka was chasing.

No weapon was recovered, but 8 shell casings were found downhill, east of Kuka’s body. The casings moved in a trail up the hill, towards the body.

In October 2007, Lualemaga told police that her identification of Trulove was reinforced when she saw him on television when the episode of the reality show he was in finally aired.

Nonetheless, it was not until October 2008 that Trulove was arrested and charged with first-degree murder committed with a firearm and, because he had a prior conviction for receiving stolen property, being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Trulove went to trial in San Francisco County Superior Court in January 2010. Lualemaga now said she was 100 percent sure that Trulove was the gunman. She said that she did not tell police she was 100 percent sure of the identifications—even though she now said she was—because she was afraid she would have to testify and did not want to do so.

She testified that she was afraid she would “be sitting here” and “would have to face him and say, ‘I seen you. This is the person I seen shot (Kuka).’”

Asked what she feared was going to happen if she testified, she told the jury, “Just people who are probably related to [Trulove], or friends with him, you know. They’re—they want to support him. And I’m just—I was scared. I don’t know. Maybe revenge on me, or my family.”

Lualemaga testified that she had been placed in a witness protection program by the prosecution, as had her sister.

In closing argument, the prosecutor told jurors that they should believe Lualemaga was telling the truth because she had risked her life to testify against Trulove. The prosecutor urged the jury to show the same courage that Lualemaga did by testifying. On February 9, 2010, the jury convicted Trulove of first-degree murder with a firearm and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

While the case was on appeal, Trulove’s appellate attorney, Marc Zilversmit, filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming that he had found several eyewitnesses who said the gunman was not Trulove.

In September 2013, a California Court of Appeal upheld Trulove’s convictions, but reduced the murder conviction from first-degree to second-degree murder.

The appeals court agreed to rehear the case at the request of Zilversmit and in January 2014, agreed with Zilversmit’s argument that the prosecution had committed misconduct by arguing that Lualemaga had faced threats which caused her to fear for her life.

The appeals court said that because the prosecution “did not present a scintilla of evidence” of any threats, the prosecution argument was improper and likely prejudiced the jury. The court also held that Trulove’s defense lawyer had provided constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to object to the prosecution’s argument.

When the case was remanded for a new trial, defense attorneys Kate Chatfield and Alex Reisman were appointed to defend Trulove. In preparation for a retrial, they arranged for a pathologist to examine the autopsy report on Kuka and a ballistics expert to examine the location of the shell casings in relation to the body.

Lualemaga again testified and identified Trulove as the gunman who shot Kuka while running downhill and from west to east.

The defense pathologist and the ballistics expert testified that based on their analysis of the casings and the bullet entry wounds and wound trajectories, Kuka was shot by someone who was below him—running up the street from east to west, not down the street from west to east—and that Lualemaga could not see far enough down the street from her second floor window to have seen someone shoot Kuka.

On March 11, 2015, after five days of deliberation, the jury acquitted Trulove and he was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/17/2015
State:California
County:San Francisco
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2007
Convicted:2010
Exonerated:2015
Sentence:50 to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:25
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No