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January 22, 2009 -- The Agitator (US)

Update on the Ryan Frederick Trial

By Radley Balko

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive


Today is the third day in the trial of Ryan Frederick, the 28-year-old Chesapeake, Virginia man facing murder charges for killing a police officer during a drug raid (see this wiki for more on Frederick's case). Tuesday primarily consisted of jury selection. Yesterday featured the opening statements.

I'm really in awe of the prosecution's brazen strategy. According to the Virginian-Pilot, prosecutor James Willett argued in his opening that Frederick was "stoned out of his mind," and "in a blind rage" at the time of the raid. Willett is apparently confident that no one on the jury has ever smoked marijuana. Frederic attorney James Broccoletti then asked the judge to admit into evidence a video in which a police detective flat-out says that Frederick didn't appear high at the time of the raid. Moreover, in a recorded conversation taken shortly after the raid, Frederic says he didn't know the men breaking into his home were the police. And he's weeping.

As I suspected, the prosecution's case is going to rely not just on the word of criminal informants, but of jailhouse snitches, too. Again from the Virginian-Pilot:

[Frederick] later told a jail inmate that if he had more ammunition, "he would have taken them all down," a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.

"He's over there" in jail "bragging about it. He thinks he's going to beat this charge," James Willett, one of three prosecutors, told the jury during opening statements.

This is just absurd. Frederick was on suicide watch shortly after the raid. He surrendered after discovering the men breaking into his home were the police. Everyone I've spoken to who knows Frederick describes him as meek, shy, and introverted. It isn't surprising that the prosecution could find a felon willing to say Frederick confessed to him in exchange for help with his own sentence. What will be surprising is if the jury is made aware of the deal he cut with prosecutors.

One other huge inconsistency in the state's case came out in opening arguments. From the Tidewater Liberty blog:

[Willett] went on to describe how the police carefully planned how to serve the warrant and of the necessity of serving it with overwhelming force because they knew Frederick's home had been burglarized and he would be wary.

Let's set aside for a moment the incredibly dumb calculation that it would be a good idea to launch an aggressive, forced-entry, after-dark raid on a man the police knew would be "wary" because his home had just been burglarized. (A man who had no prior record and no history of violent behavior, by the way.)

We now know that the police informants were the ones who broke into Frederick's home, and that this is how they obtained probable cause for the raid. Yet the police didn't explain on their affidavit for the warrant that their probable cause had been obtained illegally, as is required by law. The state says this is because the police weren't aware of that fact until months later. Yet they're now arguing that the police knew on the night of the raid that Frederick's house had been broken into three nights earlier, even though Frederick never reported the break-in.

So the state is arguing the following:

* The police knew on the night of the raid that Frederick's home had been burglarized three nights before the raid.

* The police learned of the break-in through their informant, Steven Wright. Frederick never reported the break-in.

* The police mention on the warrant that Wright was in Frederick's home "72 hours" prior to the raid.

* Despite all of this, the police never made the connection that, despite his criminal record, and that he was desperate to get help on the felony charges he was facing at the time, their informant could possibly have been the one who committed the break in.

The Chesapeake police involved in this raid were either corrupt or stupid. They either lied on the warrant, or they were incredibly ignorant of what their informants were doing. The prosecution has apparently calculated that their case against Frederick is better served by "stupid."

Frederick's defense is moving for a mistrial given these inconsistencies in police and prosecution statements regarding the informants.

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