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D.A. asks for new trial for convicted killer in Sunset Beach because sheriff’s deputies refuse to testify on snitch use

A man convicted of the 1988 stabbing death of a marijuana dealer in Sunset Beach will almost surely get a new trial, at the request Thursday of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donohue said Thursday he will grant the request Monday to overturn the 2010 jury conviction of Paul Gentile Smith and grant him a new trial.

The request by Senior Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt came at the beginning of what was supposed to be a hearing on whether prosecutors and Orange County sheriff’s deputies violated Smith’s constitutional rights during his trial by misusing jailhouse informants and then hiding it from defense attorneys. The hearing was requested by assistant public defenders Scott Sanders and Sara Ross.

Hunt said in court his office sent out subpoenas to current and former deputies involved with jailhouse informants to testify at the hearing, but they indicated through their attorneys they would invoke the Fifth Amendment. Hunt said Smith could not get a fair hearing because of the refusal of deputies to testify and asked for a new trial.

More than 20 years after the killing, Smith was arrested in Las Vegas, after his DNA profile matched the genetic material in blood drops left at the crime scene. Police had taken a sample from Smith after an unrelated arrest for domestic violence.

A jury in November 2010 found Smith guilty of stabbing marijuana dealer Robert Haugen’s nude body 18 times — nearly decapitating the victim — and torching his remains.

Smith argued that he did not kill Haugen, a childhood friend and Smith’s pot supplier.

Smith explained that at the time of the crime, he carried a Swiss Army knife. He said he must have cut himself while using the knife’s small scissors to trim high-grade marijuana at Haugen’s home the day before the killing.

In the jail, Smith was placed by deputies in Mod-L20, a cell used routinely at the time to match suspects with jailhouse informants, after he already was represented by an attorney. Smith was near an informant, Arthur Palacios, and at least two other unnamed informants. Though prosecutors told Smith’s defense lawyer about Palacios, they never disclosed the other informants. The use of informants on Smith violated his right to counsel and not telling his defense was a violation of discovery laws, public defenders said.

Palacios testified that Smith confessed the murder to him, helping to win a conviction.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Source: Orange County Register

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