Judge Reprimands Johnston District Attorney's Office
Posted March 19, 2008 5:35 p.m. EDT
Updated March 19, 2008 6:26 p.m. EDT
Fayetteville, N.C. — A Superior Court judge has reprimanded the Johnston County District Attorney's Office for waiting too long to turn over evidence in the murder trial of a woman accused of shooting her boyfriend to death nearly two years ago.
Prosecutors turned over a 437-page file with investigators' notes to defense attorneys for Tiffany Ann Bassett five days before the trial was supposed to start March 17.
The district attorney's office said it only recently discovered this missing file, and turned it over right away.
But Superior Court Judge E. Lynn Johnson called the late disclosure "egregious" before ordering a new trial date of April 21 in Cumberland County. The trial's location had been changed because of pre-trial publicity.
Bassett is charged with first-degree murder in the July 18, 2006, death of Donald "Keith" West, whom authorities found dead inside his bedroom. West was the president and chief executive officer of West-Tek Inc. of Smithfield. He was also a former Smithfield police officer.
"The judge could have thrown (the case) out if the judge had determined it was a willful violation," said Irving Joyner, an attorney and professor of law at North Carolina Central University.
"Finally, we're at trial almost two years later, and then, it was like a kick in the stomach," said West's sister, Janet Tedder, who said she believes elections and changes in the prosecutor's office played a role in the case taking so long to go to trial.
"I think 20 months ago, the focus on this case was not there," she said.
"I think there are major flaws in the system, and that's why defense attorneys have been fighting for years to bring about some change," Joyner said
The district attorney's office said that as of March 1 there is a new system in place to track every piece of evidence, to prevent something like this from happening again.
Bassett's attorney, W. Robert Denning III, declined to comment Wednesday.