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Mean Justice: A Town's Terror, a Prosecutor's Power, a Betrayal of Innocence

By Edward Humes

In this new book, Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Humes presents a powerful case against Kern County District Attorney Ed Jagels and his prosecutors.

491 pages
Simon and Schuster (1999)

Reviewed by: Eric Howard

In 1993 in Bakersfield, Pat Dunn was convicted of murdering his wife. The People of Kern County v. Patrick O. Dunn is the central story of Mean Justice, and it reveals that Dunn's conviction was obtained with the help of an informant, Jerry Coble, whose credibility problems the prosecutor's office did what it could to conceal from the defense. In short, to read Mean Justice is to become reasonably sure that Dunn was railroaded.

Not satisfied with one controversy, the author goes beyond Dunn's fate. Offord Rollins's case is also reviewed. Rollins, a well-respected high school student, was convicted of murdering Maria Rodriguez. Humes writes that the prosecutor, Lisa Green, portrayed the African American youth as "a sexual savage." Before Green was assigned the case, another district attorney argued that the 17-year-old should be tried in adult court because he had raped and sodomized Rodriguez before killing her. "Problem was," Humes points out, "the DA's office at that time had in hand an autopsy report showing Maria had not been raped." Additionally, she had not had anal sex "for at least 24 hours prior to her murder."

Once the prosecutor's office had focused its zeal on Rollins, it ignored Victor Perez, a convict who lived in Rodriguez's house and who had helpfully acted as an interpreter when police first questioned Rodriguez&'s mother. The prosecution, Humes notes, concealed its knowledge that Perez "did not have the alibi" it had claimed he had.

Ultimately, after three years in prison, Rollins won a retrial that resulted in a hung jury and was freed.

Rollins's fate was similar to numerous people caught up in a rash of child abuse cases in the 1980s. Humes also marshals considerable evidence about these legally dubious but emotionally charged cases.

Piece by piece, case by case, Humes presents a convincing portrait of a prosecutor's office run amok, ignoring its duty to justice in the pursuit of convictions.

Eric Howard is associate editor of Los Angeles Lawyer.