PROVIDENCE — A Rhode Island judge vacated the murder conviction of a man who has spent more than 23 years in prison, ruling Monday that improper police procedures and the suppression of favorable evidence deprived him of a fair trial.
Convicted in 1992 of fatally beating 22-year-old Doreen Picard with a lead pipe a decade earlier, Raymond Tempest gave a passing smile as Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini announced his decision to a hushed courtroom. Tempest's relatives burst into tears, and many embraced.
"Raymond and his family waited 23 years for this day," Michael Kendall, a lawyer for Tempest, said from the courthouse steps after the hearing. "Obviously they are very pleased."
Tempest was found guilty of beating Picard in February 1982 after she found him assaulting her landlord in the basement of a triple-decker in Woonsocket.
In a 78-page decision, Procaccini held that Tempest's due process rights were violated before and during his trial, and that "justice demands the setting aside of his conviction."
"While Mr. Tempest has failed to provide any newly discovered evidence supportive of his claim of innocence, it is clear that he was deprived of a fair trial when he was found guilty."
The state attorney general's office said it would appeal the decision to the state's Supreme Court, and was confident it would prevail.
"Clearly, we are disappointed in the outcome," Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said in a statement. "While we continue to evaluate the decision in depth, with all due respect to the court, we disagree with the outcome, and we fully intend to appeal."
Tempest, 62, remains in custody but he could be released to home confinement early next month as he awaits the outcome of the appeal.
"I don't want him outside the confines of a home," Procaccini said.
Tempest "respects the process and wants to see it through," his lawyer said. If released on bail, he would stay with family in Rhode Island.
Tempest has maintained his innocence throughout his prison term, and asked for the court to do the same. But Procaccini said there had been "no grand repudiation of the prosecution's case," and denied the petition.
In March, Tempest testified that he didn't tell the police that he had been drinking and smoking marijuana with friends at the time of the killing because he was worried about embarrassing his father, a Providence County sheriff, and his brother, a Woonsocket police officer, according to the Providence Journal. Even after he was charged with murder, he didn't tell his lawyer where he was, the newspaper reported.
Tempest was not indicted in the high-profile case, which Procaccini wrote had "consumed the collective consciousness of northern Rhode Island," until nine years after the murder, and was found guilty despite "a dearth of physical evidence" tying him to the scene. Several witnesses testified that Tempest had told them he had killed Picard years before.
But the initial investigation into the slaying was completely mismanaged, the ruling found. The crime scene, the basement of the triple-decker apartment, was never properly secured and the only person available to gather evidence was unfamiliar with standard procedures.
Tempest's lawyers had also presented two new pieces of evidence — a deed casting doubt on the testimony of a key prosecution witness, and DNA evidence showing that hair found in Picard's hand did not belong to him.
But the ruling noted that the witness's testimony was picked apart at trial and exposed as a blend of "inconsistences and half-truths."
"In spite of this, a guilty verdict stuck," the judge wrote.
The judge said the DNA evidence was not enough to prove Tempest's innocence, and noted that the hairs found in her hand belonged to at least two different people.
But Procaccini found that prosecutors did not disclose statements that cast doubt on the government's theory that Tempest was driven to Picard's apartment in a maroon car, the only piece of evidence linking him to the crime scene.
The judge also ruled that police "fed witnesses information in an effort to move the case against Mr. Tempest forward." For example, in three interviews after the murder, one woman never mentions seeing an unfamiliar car at the house.
But after a phone conversation with an investigator 10 years later, "her memory is conveniently jogged," he wrote.
"Just in time for trial, she miraculously recalls seeing a strange car parked outside 409 Providence Street," he wrote. "After a decade-long amnesia," she is able to provide police with "exactly what they want — eyewitness testimony linking Mr. Tempest to the scene."
The Picard family declined to comment. In his statement, Kilmartin thanked the Picard family for their "patience and graciousness" during the appeal process.
"Legal meanderings aside, we cannot forget that a young woman was brutally murdered, and her family still grieves her loss every day," he said.