sfpd_crimescene.jpgSan Francisco prosecutors said today they are weighing their options after a superior court judge on Tuesday ruled to overturn the murder conviction of a man who has been in prison for 16 years.

Caramad Conley, now 40, was convicted by a jury in 1994 of two counts of first-degree murder, 11 counts of attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder for a 1989 drive-by shooting in the Bayview District. Thirteen people were hit by gunfire, and two men, Charles Hughes and Roshawn Johnson, were killed.

Prosecutors said the killings were gang related.

Conley is now serving a prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

In her ruling Tuesday, Judge Marla Miller ordered a new trial for Conley. She found that San Francisco police withheld evidence that the prosecution’s key witness against Conley was paid thousands of dollars in exchange for his testimony.

At the time, the officer in question, homicide inspector Earl Sanders, allowed witness Clifford Polk to testify under oath that he was no longer in the witness protection program, Miller said.

Miller found that statement to be false, saying there was “voluminous evidence” that at the time, Sanders had been giving Polk cash and other benefits through the witness protection program.

“Polk’s false testimony went to the heart of his credibility as a witness,” Miller wrote in her ruling.

According to one of Conley’s attorneys, Daniel Purcell, Polk testified at Conley’s trial that after the murders, Conley had come to him and confessed to the crimes. Purcell claimed Conley was never in the cars involved in the shootings and was not a gang member.

Purcell said Polk “had a long relationship with Earl Sanders” that included witness protection payments in a prior murder trial.

At the time of the Conley trial, Sanders again began making payments to Polk under the witness protection program, Purcell said.

“Sanders knew that Polk was lying (about being in the program) and didn’t do anything to correct it,” Purcell said. “And that was the basis of Judge Miller’s decision.”

Sanders later went on to become San Francisco’s police chief, serving for 14 months in 2002 and 2003.

Polk died in 2007, Purcell said.

District attorney’s office spokesman Seth Steward said today that his office hasn’t made a decision about whether to appeal Miller’s ruling or retry the case.

“We’re in the process of reviewing the judge’s ruling, and once that review is completed, we’ll have a better idea of what direction we’re going to take,” Steward said.

Ari Burack, Bay City News

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