by Leigh Lundin
Okay, you get drunk. It happens. So drunk, you pass out. That can happen, too. When you wake up, you have no memory of the previous night, not even of a rough crowd and prostitutes… That might happen too. And you’re charged with homicide.
Yup, murder of a wealthy and important man, killed during a home invasion and robbery. It can happen, especially in 1930s and 40s detective noir novels, but not so much these days, right?
In our first installment, the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass claims, “Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” We described a seemingly impossible case where a supposed murderess was killed weeks before she was believed to have killed another woman.
In our second article, we visited the case of a female serial killer who appeared to outwit police. She wasn’t what she seemed.
Today, again thanks to a reader, we look at a current case, that of a drunk who passed out only to awake to accusations he’d murdered a man.
15km south of San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley and adjacent to Los Gatos, California, lies the wealthy bedroom community of Monte Sereno. There Raveesh ‘Ravi’ Kumra, entrepreneur and one-time-winery owner lived and died.
Police arrested a number of suspects including a couple of prostitutes and a businessman named Lukis Anderson. Mr. Anderson had no memory of murdering anyone, let alone a man he didn’t know in Monte Sereno. That was unsurprising: Anderson’s blood alcohol exceeded five times the legal limit. But he had a good alibi: At the estimated time of the murder, Anderson was comatose, insensibly blacked out in a hospital.
But criminalist Tahnee Mehmet Nelson felt certain Anderson had committed the murder and she found DNA on the victim's body to prove it. And prosecutor Kevin Smith believed her.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Nelson has baggage of her own– she’d been at the center of bungled DNA testing and a subsequent cover-up. And Santa Clara County also bears a tarnished reputation that resulted in an earlier wrongful prosecution. Far from being an independent department, the crime lab is run by and beholden to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office.
The Unsinkable Molly O'Neal
But Public Defender Molly O'Neal dug into the case and proved to her own satisfaction that Anderson couldn’t have been in two places at once– unconscious in a hospital and miles away elsewhere murdering a man he’d never met.
Prosecutors don’t like to give up. District Attorney Kevin Smith kept Anderson in jail four months, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Finally, he and ADA Scott Tsui dropped charges against Anderson, although their office continues investigating.
So what happened? Molly O'Neal believes the fault might not lie with the lab, despite their recalcitrance, but with the paramedics. She suggests the same paramedics who brought in Lukis Anderson might also have handled the murder victim after failing to properly clean up, thereby contaminating the crime scene.
If only DNA evidence was considered, it would have convincingly put Mr. Anderson in the dock and likely in prison. But thanks to a dedicated public defender, Molly O'Neal brought justice to the court system, proving her client innocent.