PROVIDENCE â Over the objections of state prosecutors, a Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that Raymond D. âBeaverâ Tempest Jr. may argue that he was wrongfully convicted of murder on the strength of false testimony resulting from the unlawful manipulation of witnesses by Woonsocket police officers.
The allegations of police misconduct are part of a multi-pronged attack on Tempestâs 1992 conviction in the grisly murder of Doreen C. Picard, 22, who was strangled and bludgeoned to death in the basement of a multi-family house on Providence Street a decade earlier. So far, the focus of the effort has fallen largely on newly discovered DNA evidence, but his lawyers say his conviction must be vacated for an assortment of additional reasons, including ineffective legal counsel, prosecutorial misconduct and the violation of Tempestâs due process rights through the procurement of false testimony.
State prosecutors do not object to allowing Tempest to proceed with his petition for post-conviction relief on the basis of the DNA evidence. Tempest's lawyers say the DNA, from a strand of hair Picard was clutching in her hand when she died, isn't a match for their client, proving someone other than Tempest committed the crime.
On Wednesday, however, state prosecutors attempted to neutralize a huge chunk of Tempestâs legal ammunition, arguing for the dismissal of the due process claims. Asst. Atty. General Aaron Weisman said the allegations of police misconduct have no legal place in the petition under the banner of ânew evidenceâ because the same claims were already litigated during Tempestâs trial, more than 22 years ago.
âThese claims are not newly discovered,â Weisman said. âI would say this if it were 1994. I think itâs gotten even stronger in 2014.â
But lawyer Michael Kendall of Boston, one of several lawyers now representing Tempest, argued otherwise, saying the claims are legally permissible because theyâre vitally interconnected with other arguments contained in the petition which point to his complete innocence.
Associate Superior Court Justice Daniel Procaccini agreed. Procaccini told prosecutors itâs impossible to evaluate how new and relevant the allegations of police misconduct are to Tempestâs overall argument at this preliminary stage of the litigation. Ultimately, he may decide that the evidence is inadmissible in a full-blown hearing on the merits, but he wants to hear what it is first.
âIâm very reluctant to dismiss, knowing whatâs at stake in case like this,â Procaccini said. âIt may be an unnecessary action by the court at this time.â
In a related matter, Procaccini also ordered prosecutors to do their best to find documents associated with any investigations involving former Woonsocket Police Chief Rodney Remblad and his brother-in-law, Stanley Irza, who was credited with discovering some of the witnesses who testified against Tempest. Kendall told the judge that the lead investigator in the case sent the sentencing judge a letter in praise of Irza for his help after Irza got in trouble for running a chop shop in Woonsocket more than two decades ago.
Tempest, now 61, was sentenced to serve 85 years following his month-long jury trial in Superior Court. Prosecutors say he was responsible for the death of Picard, who was beaten about the head with a length of pipe and strangled with her sweater in February 1982. They say his motive for the crime was to eliminate Picard as a witness to the beating of her landlady, Susan Laferte, a second victim who was attacked in the basement on the day of the murder. She survived, but was never able to recall details of the crime.
The investigation was mired in allegations of a police cover up for years. Prosecutors argued that Tempest was protected by his relatives in law enforcement, including his brother, former Woonsocket Police Lt. Gordon Tempest, and father, Raymond Tempest Sr., high sheriff for Providence County and former second-in-command of the Woonsocket police at the time of the murder. Gordon Tempest was convicted of perjury for making false statements under oath about the investigation and was ordered to serve seven years in prison after being fired from the police department.
During the trial, the state produced a string of witnesses who claimed that Tempest bragged about committing the crime, telling others heâd get away with it because of his family ties. âIâll slide,â one quoted him as saying. âIâm a Tempest.â
But Tempestâs legal team argues that those witnesses, some of whom are deceased, gave false testimony. They say the witnesses were either coached or pressured by the police to lie.
For example, the stateâs star witness, Ronald Vaz, claimed that Tempest visited him at his Burrillville farm several times following Picardâs death and had a series of conversations with him in which Tempest made detailed statements implicating himself as the perpetrator.
Tempestâs lawyers now say Vaz âfabricated his account of Tempestâs multiple confessionsâ because âland records and an affidavit from the farmâs prior owner prove that Vaz did not own or have access to the farm until over four months after the murder.â
Papers filed in the case say âpolice pressured and coached multiple witnesses to give false testimonyâ and âignored substantial evidence of Tempestâs innocence that surfaced in the years immediately following the crime. Rather, the police, and subsequently the prosecution, chose to credit unreliable witnesses who came forward only years later to claim that Tempest had confessed.
âThese witnesses, drug users and criminals,â the petition says, âwere highly vulnerable to police pressure.â
Tempest's petition for post-conviction relief is the latest chapter in his effort to clear his name since the Supreme Court affirmed his conviction in 1995. In 2005, Procaccini granted a motion allowing some of the evidence in his case to be retested for DNA, a first in the annals of Rhode Island jurisprudence.
The judge was acting on a motion filed by lawyers from the New England Innocence Project, including a Bristol woman, Betty Anne Waters, who was profiled in the 2010 film âConviction,â in which she was portrayed by actress Hilary Swank.
The film is the true story of how Waters earned a law degree to free her brother Kenneth from a Massachusetts prison, where he was doing time for murder, using newly discovered DNA evidence.
Waters was in court yesterday and is one of several attorneys now representing Tempest as part of a NEIP legal team. They include Kendall, of the Boston firm McDermott Will & Emory,two of the firm's other lawyers, and Lauren E. Jones of Jones Associates in Providence.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo