In 1987, Miguel Bacigalupo was sentenced to die for a double murder. Yet a case now pending before the California Supreme Court raises very serious questions about whether Bacigalupo belongs on death row. Although there is little question that he killed two men, new evidence suggests that he may have done so only to save his family:
Bacigalupo, however, maintained that the Colombian mafia ordered him to kill the brothers and that his family would have been murdered if he failed to carry out the “drug hit.” The jury heard scant evidence to back up a connection with drug traffickers.
But evidence unearthed during the appeal suggested Allegro and particularly her lead investigator, Sandra Williams, had strong information from a confidential informant that might have supported Bacigalupo’s claim. And the appeal has hinged on the fact the prosecution team did not share that information with Bacigalupo’s defense attorney before trial, as the law requires.
At the Supreme Court’s direction, retired Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Richard Arnason held lengthy hearings over several years. One witness flown in from Venezuela confirmed that shortly before the murders Bacigalupo had met with Jose Angarita, a cocaine trafficker with ties to Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, according to court papers.
Defendants in a criminal case have a constitutional right to certain evidence held by the prosecution. In Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that withholding exculpatory evidence violates Due Process “where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment.” Prosecutors are also required to turn over exculpatory evidence held only by the police. Any evidence supporting Bacigalupo’s claims that his family was threatened by the Colombian mafia should have been turned over to the defense if for no other reason than because such evidence may have persuaded a jury to impose a penalty other than the death penalty.
For four decades the Supreme Court has recognized that the death penalty is reserved only for the most severe crimes and only for the very worst offenders. Indeed, American juries impose the death penalty on only 2% of convicted murderers. If Bacigalupo’s claims are true, then his actions likely do not amount to a crime severe enough to be punished by the death penalty. At the very least, however, this decision must be left to the jury, not decided for them by a prosecutor who fails to turn over evidence.