A Fresno man found guilty of attacking a newspaper carrier in 2004 can ask for a new trial because his attorney found evidence that suggests he didn't do it, an appellate court has ruled.
In April 2007, a jury found Tannen Soojian guilty of the kidnapping, robbing and attempted murder of Joyce Ahumada while she was on a delivery route with her son. He was sentenced to life in prison.
But this week, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno said Fresno County Superior Court Judge James Quaschnick didn't properly review new evidence that showed another man could have attacked the carrier. Now he must reconsider his denial of a request for a new trial.
The ruling brought relief to Soojian's lawyer, Mark Geragos, a celebrity lawyer from Los Angeles who directed investigator Scott Ross to look for evidence after Soojian was convicted.
Ross tracked down a pickup that was similar to the one described in the attack. Geragos bought the truck, then paid a former law-enforcement officer to guard it while an independent lab examined it.
The truck had belonged to a man who was mentioned in Soojian's trial as a possible suspect. In the truck, lab technicians found Ahumada's expired driver's license, as well as "snake shot," or pellets similar to what was fired at Ahumada, court records said.
"In my heart, I always knew he was innocent," Geragos said Thursday. His other clients have included convicted wife-killer Scott Peterson and pop singer Michael Jackson.
During Soojian's trial, Ahumada testified that she and her 16-year-old son were in her pickup delivering Fresno Bee newspapers on a rural road east of Clovis on April 18, 2004, when a pickup pulled up beside them. A man she identified as Soojian got out of his truck and approached her vehicle.
At first, the man appeared pleasant. Then he pulled out a handgun and aimed it at her head, she said. Ahumada and her son were forced at gunpoint into his truck.
Ahumada said the man shot her in the chest as she and her son jumped out of the truck. Investigators later determined she was shot with snake shot.
The jury convicted Soojian, partly because Ahumada identified Soojian and because prosecutor Douglas Haas said DNA evidence -- from a drop of Ahumada's blood -- was found in Soojian's truck.
In his ruling to deny Soojian a new trial, Quaschnick found the new evidence "suspect," court records show.
Geragos also had submitted a declaration from a juror who said that if she had known of the new evidence, she would not have voted to convict. But the judge concluded the juror's declaration had little if any weight.
"I find there is more than sufficient evidence to support the verdict," Quaschnick said.
But Geragos said there is ample proof to show Soojian is innocent: Ahumada's son did not identify Soojian as the attacker. A palm print on Ahumada's car did not belong to Soojian. Ahumada said the shooter was clean-shaven; Soojian had a full goatee when he was arrested 12 hours after the attack. Ahumada also was heavily medicated when she picked Soojian out of a photo lineup.
"The right thing to do is for the DA to dismiss the case so my client doesn't have to spend another day in prison for a crime he didn't do," Geragos said.
But John Savrnoch, a chief assistant district attorney, said: "That's not going to happen." Soojian is guilty and should remain in prison, he said.