Clovis News

New trial ordered in Fresno Bee carrier shooting

A new trial has been ordered for a Fresno man serving a life prison sentence after a jury convicted him of shooting a woman delivering newspapers.

It was the second time the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno has reversed a Fresno judge's ruling that denied a new trial for Tannen Soojian.

In 2007, a jury found Soojian guilty of kidnap, robbery and the attempted murder of Joyce Ahumada. She and her teenage son were delivering The Bee when she was shot in the chest on Shaw Avenue east of Clovis in April 2004.

But after the conviction, Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos, who represents Soojian, said his private investigator found a truck that was similar to the one described in the attack. Geragos said he bought the truck and paid a former law-enforcement officer to guard it while an independent lab examined it.

The truck had belonged to Soojian's cousin, who was mentioned in the trial as a possible suspect, Geragos said. 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, he said.

In its ruling Wednesday, the appellate court said Fresno County Superior Court Judge M. Bruce Smith erred in August 2009 when he rejected Soojian's motion for a new trial. Two years earlier, the appellate court found that the trial judge, James Quaschnick, also didn't properly consider Soojian's new evidence.

"The evidence introduced at trial that implicated Soojian in the crimes, while sufficient to support the judgment, was far from overwhelming," the justices wrote. "We conclude the newly discovered evidence raises significant issues as to the correctness of the verdict."

Geragos said he was very pleased with the ruling. "This is the greatest travesty of justice I have ever seen," said Geragos, who has been practicing law for 27 years. "An innocent man is in prison for something he didn't do."

Sonia De La Rosa, a spokeswoman for the Fresno County District Attorney's Office, said prosecutors will discuss the ruling with the state Attorney General's Office. She declined to comment further.

Ahumada, 53, however, said Friday that she is positive that Soojian shot her.

"This is a game Geragos is playing," she said. "I'm not going to give up. The facts are the facts. Soojian is guilty."

During the 2007 trial, Ahumada testified that during the early hours of April 18, 2004, she had just stopped her pickup to deliver a newspaper at a home on Shaw Avenue near DeWolf Avenue. A man in a pickup approached her and her son.

At first, the man appeared pleasant, she said. Then he aimed a handgun at her head. She said she and her son were forced at gunpoint into his truck.

Ahumada said the man shot as she and her son jumped out of the truck. Investigators later determined she was shot with snake shot.

Morgan Ahumada, then 16, could not identify the shooter, but he described the truck that left.

The jury convicted Soojian, because Ahumada identified Soojian as the shooter and because prosecutor Douglas Haas said DNA evidence -- Ahumada's blood -- was found in Soojian's truck. Before sentencing Soojian, Quaschnick denied Soojian's request for a new trial.

The appellate court, however, in March 2009 ordered Quaschnick to reconsider. But Geragos exercised his right to get a new judge, leaving Smith to hold a hearing to consider Soojian's motion.

In August 2009, Smith denied the motion. The next month, Smith denied Soojian's request to lessen his life prison sentence.