Crime

Ex-witness gets 21 months in prison

James Earl Edmiston said he was a computer forensics expert and seemed so good at it that his name circulated among defense attorneys as a person who knew his stuff.

But although Edmiston knew about computers, he lied on his résumé -- which was filed in official court documents -- and to investigators who questioned him about his qualifications.

For those actions, he was sentenced Friday to one year and nine months in federal prison after earlier pleading guilty to two perjury counts.

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill rejected Edmiston's bid for home detention instead of prison because he said deceit such as perjury can imperil cases where "people's liberties are at stake."

"It goes to the heart of the criminal justice system," O'Neill said.

Federal agents arrested Edmiston last September after they became suspicious of the 36-year-old Long Beach resident's qualifications.

Edmiston had a sterling résumé that listed degrees from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California at Los Angeles, but agents discovered some of the degrees listed were not offered by the universities.

He had been qualified as an expert witness in computers and had submitted documents and offered testimony in court, including Tulare County Superior Court and the Fresno County Superior Court branch in Clovis.

Based on Edmiston's reputation, Fresno attorney Richard Berman retained him for a child pornography case involving Ron Vaughn Jr., a Fresno County sheriff's sergeant.

The case is still in the preliminary stages, and Berman said Friday that even though Edmiston lied on his résumé, his work has checked out.

"I was really distressed when we found this out because we were winning the case based on his information," Berman said.

As part of Edmiston's sentence, O'Neill ordered him to pay $2,000 in restitution to Berman.

It was the Vaughn case, as well as another child pornography case Edmiston worked on involving Fresno resident Marlon Efren Celedon, that caught the eye of federal agents and led to his arrest.

Celedon, who was represented by Fresno attorney Eric Schweitzer, pleaded guilty last month and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 20 before U.S. District Judge Judge Oliver W. Wanger.

In at least three other local cases, attorneys either considered hiring or were seeking to hire Edmiston when he was arrested.

Fresno attorney Daniel Harralson said Schweitzer had recommended Edmiston for a child pornography case involving Tulare County resident Cyril Fritch, and Harralson was set to hire him to work on the case when he was arrested.

Authorities, however, say that based on information they now have, no convictions have been jeopardized by Edmiston's actions. Mostly, attorneys say, new computer forensics experts had to be hired, leading to delays.

In court on Friday, Edmiston's attorney, Robert Rainwater, said his client had a series of father figures who abused him physically and mentally, and eventually Edmiston retreated into a make-believe world.

He lied, Rainwater said, not for financial gain, but to survive.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheila Oberto said Edmiston has a long history of lying that continues even now. She said he lied to a probation officer who questioned him about ever being married or having children.

"That is a pattern of misleading, inaccurate statements he's been making back to his childhood," Oberto said.

O'Neill ordered Edmiston to report to prison Sept. 10.

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