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Orange County judge tosses out two first-degree murder convictions
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Date published: 5/11/2007
A judge has set aside a pair of first-degree murder verdicts against an Orange County man because the prosecutor withheld evidence that would have helped the defense.
Circuit Judge Daniel R. Bouton ordered a new trial for James Henry Long Jr. because Commonwealth's Attorney Diana Wheeler did not tell Long's defense attorney of a plea agreement with Robin Browning, the star witness against Long.
A jury found Long guilty Sept. 14 of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of using a firearm in the commission of the slayings of William Browning and Vicki Truax on March 18, 2005.
Robin Browning, ex-wife of William Browning and Long's companion of many years, testified against Long at preliminary hearings and the trial.
She testified that Long drove her car on the night of the slayings, and when he returned to their home told her that he had killed William Browning.
Although both Jamie Long and Robin Browning were considered suspects in the deaths, they were originally charged with felony drug offenses and jailed.
Four days after the deaths, Long was charged with killing Truax; no charges were brought against either Long or Robin Browning at that time in William Browning's death.
According to Bouton's letter ruling, Robin Browning and her attorney began cooperating with the prosecutor.
She let police search the house she shared with Long and evidence, including guns used in the slayings, were found.
On July 25, 2005, Long was indicted on murder charges in both deaths.
Robin Browning spent most of the next 18 months in jail while the drug case against her was repeatedly postponed.
After testifying against Long, she was released from jail on time served.
In Bouton's ruling he says that "a substantial amount of exculpatory evidence" was not disclosed to defense attorney Michael Morchower.
Bonnie Lepold, Robin Browning's lawyer, said she was assured by Wheeler that her client was not going to be charged in the deaths and she agreed to cooperate with authorities.
The judge said that the prosecutor didn't challenge the evidence presented by Long's lawyer to set aside the guilty verdicts.
Bouton wrote that the prosecutor conceded that Robin Browning's plea agreement was never disclosed to the defense.
The judge noted that the credibility of Robin Browning's testimony "was a critical issue in the case" and that the prosecution "failed to disclose evidence that was directly related to her credibility as a witness. The nondisclosed evidence was material."
Wheeler wouldn't comment on the judge's ruling, saying she didn't want to influence the jury pool for the new trial.
Bouton has set a hearing for June 14 in Orange County Circuit Court to review the case and decide the procedures for a new trial.Robin Knepper: 540/972-5701