July 16, 2019

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Current Status of Jarvis's Appeal

In 1990, a jury convicted Jarvis Masters and his two co-defendants of the murder of San Quentin Prison Correctional Sergeant Howell Burchfield and of conspiracy to commit murder and assault on a prison guard. The three were eligible for the death penalty, since the jury found that the special circumstance was true that Sergeant Burchfield was a peace officer killed in the performance of his duties. In the penalty phase of the trials, the jury for one of the co-defendants deadlocked and he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The jury for the other co-defendant returned a verdict of death, but the trial judge decided to modify the death verdict to life without parole. The jury trying Jarvis's penalty phase also returned a verdict of death. On July 30, 1990, the judge sentenced Jarvis to death.

After attorneys Joseph Baxter and Richard Targow were finally appointed to represent Jarvis in his automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court, it took years to then approve the transcripts and records of what happened at the trial. On December 7, 2001, the 515-page Appellant's Opening Brief was filed in the California Supreme Court by Jarvis's attorneys. On March 3, 2003, the California Attorney General's office filed their Respondent's Brief, responding to the claims Jarvis raised in his appeal. On November 24, 2003, Jarvis's attorneys filed their Reply Brief, addressing the arguments of the Attorney General's brief. Thus, the appeal itself is fully briefed. As is true of all appeals, Jarvis's appeal is limited to claims of reversible error about what went on at his trial, as reflected in the trial transcripts and record.

However, Jarvis has raised other claims in the California Supreme Court by a petition for writ of habeas corpus, the legal mechanism to present new evidence that did not come out at trial. Jarvis's attorneys and their investigators diligently worked on the 122-page habeas corpus petition and filed it on January 7, 2005, along with 159 pages of evidence, including witness statements, in support of the petition. Among its claims the petition sets out proof of Jarvis's factual innocence, as well as claims of due process violations that prevented Jarvis from presenting his defense at trial because important evidence was improperly excluded, such as confessions of other people and the fact that a key prisoner witness received a quid pro quo in exchange for his testimony. The petition also outlines serious charges of prosecutorial misconduct, including the manufacture of evidence against Jarvis, the subordination of perjury from the prosecution's witnesses, and the withholding of exculpatory evidence.

The California Supreme Court read the habeas corpus petition and decided it stated a prima facie case for granting a new trial. On February 14, 2007, they issued a very strong and unusual order to California state prosecutors to respond to Jarvis’s claims in the petition. The Order to Show Cause (OSC) requires the Attorney General to show why Jarvis is not entitled to a new trial for eight reasons: (1) material false evidence was admitted at the guilt phase of Jarvis’s trial; (2) newly discovered evidence casts fundamental doubt on the prosecution’s case in the guilt phase; (3) Jarvis’s trial was fundamentally unfair because a prosecution witness was unreliable, since he was coerced by the prosecution; (4) the prosecution violated Jarvis’s constitutional rights by failing to disclose promises of leniency to another prosecution witness and other credibility issues with that witness; (5) the prosecution knowingly presented false testimony of a witness; (6) the trial was fundamentally unfair because of this improper coercion; (7) false evidence was admitted at the penalty phase of the trial regarding Jarvis’s alleged participation in a prior murder; and (8) newly discovered evidence regarding Hoze's testimony casts fundamental doubt on the accuracy and reliability of the penalty-phase proceedings, as alleged in Claims II, III and V of the petition. Justices Kennard and Werdegar would issue the order to show cause on the additional grounds that newly presented evidence establishes petitioner is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted and that his execution would violate the federal Constitution because he is actually innocent, as alleged in Claim II.

Jarvis’s lead lawyer, Joe Baxter, called the Supreme Court’s Order to Show Cause “unique and breathtaking in its scope.”

On July 16th, 2007, the Attorney General formally responded to the Court's order. Jarvis’s lawyers filed their response (called a “traverse” in habeas proceedings) on February 11, 2008.

On April 11th, 2008, the California Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing. Joe Baxter, Jarvis’s lead lawyer said the court's order "allows us to prove his innocence on many different fronts and allows us to prove he didn't have a fair trial."

As of January 2014, Jarvis is waiting for the CA Supreme Court to schedule oral arguments.

Jarvis, his attorneys, and his supporters believe that his conviction will be overturned and that Jarvis will be exonerated.