A federal appeals court Tuesday overturned the murder conviction of a man accused of gunning down a 19-year-old student at a Gilroy convenience store, arguing the prosecutor -- now a Santa Clara County judge -- made inflammatory, racially charged closing remarks that the defense should have objected to.
The decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the prosecutor, Stuart Scott, gave closing arguments tainted by "falsified, inflammatory and ethnically charged remarks" that incited the jury in 2004 to find Paul Zapata guilty in just three hours despite conflicting witness testimony.
"Scott wove out of whole cloth, with no evidentiary support, a fictional and highly emotional account of the last words (the victim) heard Zapata shout as Zapata supposedly shot him," the ruling stated, adding that Scott ascribed to Zapata "several despicable, inflammatory ethnic slurs."
The unanimous, three-judge decision can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but experts consider it unlikely the justices would take up the matter.
The ruling is the latest embarrassing incident for the judge, who was elected last June after running unopposed for a seat on the Santa Clara County Superior Court bench. In March, Scott got in hot water for violating a basic fairness rule by calling a prosecutor into his chambers after a trial, complimenting her, trashing the defense attorney and saying what his likely sentence would be.
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