September 30, 2012 http://www.sfgate.com
A federal appeals court overturned the conviction and death sentence of a Southern California man in the 1986 battering death of a female neighbor because the jury wasn’t told that the defendant’s brother had admitted the killing to a cellmate.
Armenia Cudjo, now 54, was convicted of robbing and murdering Amelia Prokuda, whose partially clad body was found in her apartment in the desert community of Littlerock (Los Angeles County). A bloodstained hammer was found nearby.
Cudjo said he had been at the victim’s home that day and had sex with her but didn’t kill her. He said the killer was his brother Gregory, who more closely resembled a description of the intruder by the victim’s 5-year-old son. Gregory Cudjo told police his brother had confessed the murder to him.
Armenia Cudjo’s lawyer tried to present testimony by John Culver, who said Gregory Cudjo had admitted the killing in a cell at the sheriff’s office, but the trial judge barred the testimony. The state Supreme Court said the testimony should have been allowed but ruled 5-2 in 1993 that it wouldn’t have mattered because Culver had little credibility and the prosecution’s case was strong.
But the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled 2-1 on Friday that the trial judge had violated Cudjo’s right to present a defense. The ruling entitles him to a new trial.
Cudjo’s public defender obtained a sworn statement from Gregory Cudjo in 2008 acknowledging that he had made the admission to Culver, though he didn’t say whether he was telling the truth.
“After 26 years on Death Row, Armenia is glad to have a chance to get his life back,” the lawyer, John Littrell, said Friday.