If you’ve ever served on a jury, you’ll know that your conclusion and subsequent verdict was only as informed as the evidence you were provided to consider.
If you voted for guilt based solely upon one eyewitnesses account, only to discover six months later that a world-class expert in photographic enhancement determined the robber in the bank ATM pictures you saw COULDN’T have been the same person you voted to convict, you would likely have doubts about the certainty of your verdict.
That’s exactly what’s going on here.
- The jury did the best they could with what they had, but they were incapable of rendering an informed verdict, simply because they lacked all of the available information held on to by attorney Steve Meister before rendering their verdict.
As you will soon learn, this was Ryan’s own lawyers doing. The judge, jury, or prosecutor didn’t frame him. His own lawyer failed him gravely. Here’s how…
Trial Lawyer Steve Meister’s Mistakes
Incident #1 – ATM photos
Ryan’s attorney, Steve Meister, had in his possession low-quality ATM photos of the armed robber the state claimed was Ryan. He never turned them over to an expert to be forensically enhanced, in spite of Ryan and his family’s insistence the robber in the photos was not Ryan.
Instead, we all recognized the suspect in the ATM pictures as being James Hartley, who was an acquaintance of Ryan’s.
At the time, Mr. Meister claimed “we didn’t need to have them enhanced” because “James Hartley’s former girlfriend Elexis and Ryan’s mom would provide credible enough [lay] testimony that the robber in the picture was James”.
We now know that was merely a fallback position as to why he never had the pictures analyzed.
Turns out, shortly after Ryan’s conviction, Steve sent him a letter in jail in response to Ryan’s letter of complaint to the judge that his attorney never had the ATM pictures enhanced.
In this letter, he stated the following reasons for not having the ATM pictures enhanced by a photographic expert.
“First, about photo/video enhancement issues, as you may know, prior to our firms substituting in as your counsel, your former attorney Denise McPeak conducted this facet of the investigation.
The public defender’s office sent the ATM evidence to a well-regarded video/photo enhancement expert in Ventura County [Gregory Stutchman] whose services the public defender’s office frequently utilizes.
That qualified expert analyzed the evidence, looked at the night-time photographs taken of you by [investigator] Anthony Paradis at the ATM, and concluded that there was a 4/5 chance that the ATM suspect was you.”
– Attorney Steve Meister
Ryan’s family became aware of this letter around a year after it was written. Shortly thereafter, the expert who Meister claimed enhanced the pictures, Greg Stutchman, was contacted by the family for the results of the ATM pictures that Meister claimed had been been analyzed.
In the following sworn declaration to the court, Mr.Stutchman makes two significant claims to the court that directly contradict Steve Meister’s previous statement:
- “I never received or saw nighttime pictures of Mr. Madden taken at an ATM“, and
- “I did not prepare a report nor offer my professional opinion regarding the identification of the subject shown at the ATM machine. This is because my analysis of the pictures was incomplete, due to the different perspective, focal length, distance and/or poor quality of pictures I was sent to compare with the subject”.
In essence, Ryan had an attorney who went to trial believing in his own client’s guilt, based upon faulty information that led him to that conclusion. Meister relied on the hand written notes of Ryan’s initial public defender, Denise McPeak, but never ONCE called her or Gregory Stutchman for clarification or interpretation of what had been written.
Had he done that, he would have discovered that the ATM photos that WOULD have exonerated Ryan were never forensically analyzed or interpreted.
Incident #2 – Candy Cottage Robbery
- Attorney Steve Meister failed to provide the jury with subpoenaed telephone records and car rental receipts that would have corroborated and confirmed the sworn testimony of two witnesses that Ryan was 33 miles away from the scene of the crime on the date and time the robbery occurred.
Had the jury seen the cell phone records and car rental receipts inexplicably never submitted to the courts, the prosecutors claim to the jury would have been undermined that the witness’s recollection of the date was unreliable.
- Meister also failed to introduce evidence that the victim of the candy cottage robbery retracted her identification of Ryan being the robber, which was the only evidence against him, and instead identified James Hartley as the person who robbed her. Had the jury heard this testimony, the certainty of the victims’ eyewitness identification would have been called into question and falling below the acceptable standard of certainty required for conviction.
The prosecutor stated to the jury that the same person committed both crimes. His conclusion was that evidence of guilt in one crime was evidence of guilt for both crimes, given they happened on consecutive days within one block of each other.
We agree with that premise. However, if Ryan’s attorney had the ATM pictures enhanced, the proof of his innocence for that crime would have served to lessen the likelihood the candy cottage robbery was committed by him.
Appellate Attorney William Genego’s Mistake
Mr. Genego is a well-respected appellate attorney who was highly recommended to handle Ryan’s appeal through the California courts. Since Ryan’s appeal was based upon new evidence, he cautioned us to not expect positive results until his appeals had been exhausted in California state courts, after which this new evidence was to be presented to the federal appeals court.
Mr. Genego filed Ryan’s writ of habeas corpus with the California Supreme Court approximately 35 days beyond the acceptable deadline. Because of this inadvertent act of negligence, Ryan’s case was immediately forbidden from even being heard by the court due to a law enacted in 1996 called The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).
In essence, this law requires that all federal habeas corpus petitions must be filed within one year of a state conviction in order to meet the deadline imposed by the statute of limitations. Genego missed that deadline through a simple miscalculation of when the one year timeline expired, which has jeopardized Ryan’s chances of ever having his new evidence heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The California Atty. General has filed motions asking the court to not consider this new evidence-based upon it being submitted beyond the acceptable deadline and too late.
Similar to a teacher not accepting homework that was turned in late. That may work in a classroom environment, but the Atty. Gen.’s position essentially makes an administrative function more important than the pursuit of truth and justice.
We are now engaged in a side battle to have this new evidence allowed to be reviewed by the federal appeals court, based upon the notion that factual innocence should trump timeliness of submitting motions to the court.
Even though we believe Mr. Genego made an honest mistake of miscalculation when filing the writ of habeas corpus too late, we also believe that paying him the full $85,000 retainer fee upfront greatly contributed to his inattention to detail. In essence, our own attorney in this case created a costly problem that didn’t previously that needs to be addressed before Ryan’s case even has an opportunity to be heard by the appellate court.
And no, Genego refused to reimburse us any of the $85,000 retainer fee to apply towards retaining another attorney to represent Ryan since Genego immediately quit the case when realizing his mistake.
Side Note – Background on Trial Lawyer Selection
Based upon recommendations from others, we decided to hire Mark Werksman from the law offices of Mark Werksman to represent Ryan during the trial. After paying the $45,000 retainer fee upfront (a huge mistake paying an ANY attorney everything up front), we soon discovered about a month down the road that Mr. Werksman had passed this case off without our knowledge, approval, or consent or to one of his underlings, Steve Meister.
In layman’s terms, a bait and switch tactic had been pulled off on us.
When questioned about this, Mr. Werksman assured the family that he would be working on this case with Mr. Meister. That never happened, however. Mr. Meister was someone we didn’t know, nor was he recommended to us, but was suddenly the sole attorney working on this case. We were unable to receive a refund for this underhanded tactic that Mr. Werksman practiced on us, based upon the alleged billable hours he claimed had already been devoted to this case.
At the time, Mr. Meister had only been practicing criminal law as a defense attorney for a few years and was certainly not someone we would have willingly chosen to retain on our own.
Before joining the law offices of Mark Werksman, Steve worked in the mayor’s office and as a prosecutor, which is far different than defending the accused. To reiterate, we have nothing personal against Mr. Meister. His lack of preparation, disjointed courtroom demeanor, and unwillingness to leave no stone unturned on his client’s behalf were actions on his part that proved to be detrimental to Ryan’s case.