- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - A man whose murder conviction was tossed out on appeal alleges that Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill acted unethically in his 2009 trial by arranging a secret signal with a witness, who was to let the prosecutor know if she could identify the shooter in court.

The secret-signal plan was a violation of the prosecutor’s obligation to turn over information to the defense, the man says in an ethics complaint.

The Oregon Bar has opened an investigation, the Oregonian (https://is.gd/ayS98J) reports.

Underhill denies the allegation. Court documents say no signal was actually sent.

The bar investigates a small percentage of the complaints it gets about lawyers, and investigations of sitting district attorneys are “rare but not unheard of,” spokeswoman Kateri Walsh said.

The potential discipline includes disbarment, a suspended license or a public reprimand.

The complaint was filed by Jerrin Hickman, whose conviction has been tossed out by the state Court of Appeals because of questionable eyewitness testimony. His case is now before the Oregon Supreme Court.

At the trial, Jerrin Hickman was charged with killing another man after an argument at a 2007 New Year’s Eve Party. Hickman was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

His complaint says Underhill and the witness agreed that she would give him the unspecified signal only if she could identify Hickman as the killer.

During a break in her testimony the witness saw Hickman in the hallway, according to the appeals court summary. She began to hyperventilate and say, “Oh my God, that’s him, that’s him, that’s him,” according to the summary.

When the break was over, she identified Hickman from the stand.

Underhill’s response to the complaint says it “is based entirely on a purely hypothetical set of facts that the record unequivocally establishes did not occur.”

It said his practice for more than 25 years always has been to ask witnesses whether they can identify the perpetrator - regardless of whether the answer is yes or no.


Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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