The rape allegations from within Contra Costa County’s District Attorney’s office were bound to make big headlines. Michael Gressett was a 51-year-old deputy district attorney who worked for the sexual assault unit. His alleged victim was a 29-year-old coworker who said Gressett violently assaulted her during a lunch break. The Martinez Police Department’s September 2008 press release was replete with lurid charges like “sodomy,” “forced oral copulation,” and “penetration with a foreign object.” The alleged props — including a gun, handcuffs, steak knife, ice cubes, and an ice pick — seemed plucked from the pages of a Marquis de Sade novel.
Not surprisingly, the story attracted wide attention. The San Francisco Chronicle assigned two reporters and the Contra Costa Times posted a complete copy of the criminal complaint on its web site. Television news joined the fray, and soon Gressett’s face was plastered all across the Bay Area. And no one followed the story more closely than the lawyers and politicians who work for Contra Costa County. So many people have viewed the case file that clerks in the courthouse keep it handy like it was a popular library book. When a reporter asked for the file by its case number, the clerk immediately said, “Oh, you want the Gressett file.”
The veteran prosecutor’s reputation as an office iconoclast only added to the case’s newsworthiness. Gressett has run for the position of Contra Costa County District Attorney three separate times, putting him in disfavor with the old-boy power structure that has controlled the office for decades. After the charges came to light, District Attorney Robert Kochly did what he could to distance his office from Gressett’s alleged behavior. “It’s a sad day for our office for anything like this to occur,” Kochly told the Chronicle. “Anything of this nature is devastating to the office. It’s antithetical to what we’re about.”
After his arrest, Gressett might have been expected to cease being a thorn in management’s side. Once he was released from jail on a $1 million bond, he was promptly fired. He now faces a possible life sentence for thirteen felony counts including rape, forced sodomy, forced oral copulation, and making death threats.
But instead of slinking away, his defense team has mounted an aggressive investigation that is shedding a withering light on both the DA’s office and the charges against him. The inquiry exposed an office sexual culture so highly charged that it makes HBO’s Mad Men look like pimply sophomores toeing their insteps at a high school dance mixer. The inquiry also sheds light on an unusual contract hiring system in which young attorneys like the alleged victim live in constant fear of losing their jobs. “Pandora’s box has been opened and what’s inside is not pretty,” said Michael Cardoza, one of Gressett’s defense attorneys. “I was a deputy district attorney for sixteen years and I am appalled at what goes on in that office.”
Both Gressett and his alleged victim, who is referred to in court filings as “Jane Doe,” provide a remarkably similar account of the acts that occurred during their kinky sexual encounter. The critical difference in their stories is whether the sex was consensual. And the defense has unearthed evidence that it could have been.
But that is not the only flaw in the prosecution’s case against Gressett. Jane Doe appears to have misrepresented significant facts of the case to investigators, co-workers, or friends, according to notes from the official investigation. For instance, although she told colleagues that she was seriously injured during the assault, Gressett’s attorneys say this conflicts with medical records that show no such injuries. She also did not immediately seek medical attention or report the rape to police, but instead went to a private attorney who is well connected to the power structure in the DA’s office.
The case’s final problem is the unorthodox way that the DA’s office handled its investigation. After District Attorney Kochly was made aware of the allegations, he took no action for four and a half months — a period during which Gressett was allowed to continue working alongside female deputy district attorneys and sex-crime victims. Months later, once Kochly did take action, he assigned the investigation to a lawyer who has bad blood with Gressett and a significant stake in the office’s upcoming election.
Gressett’s attorneys say the prosecution is a politically motivated witch hunt that has sidelined two of the administration’s internal threats. Indeed, the case has bled into next year’s election for district attorney by drawing both frontrunners into the fray. Kochly’s anointed heir, whose law partner initially represented Jane Doe, has hired his own attorney to keep Gressett’s attorneys from obtaining his telephone records, which could have a bearing on the case. Meanwhile, Kochly demoted Gressett’s supervisor — who also happens to be a candidate for DA and a serious threat to Kochly’s chosen successor — for complaining about the manner in which the DA conducted the rape investigation.
“This case has stirred up a shit storm,” said Gressett’s lead attorney Daniel Russo. “And the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office is right in the middle of it.”
Since the 1960s, the district attorney has been perhaps the most powerful person in Contra Costa County. The office has been run by a line of Republicans who have always been favored by the county’s power structure, which is largely funded by the county’s five oil refineries. When John Nejedly, the county’s first full-time DA, retired in 1969, the job went to William O’Malley. In 1984, O’Malley handed it to Gary Yancey, who handed it to Robert Kochly, who is now hoping to hand it to William O’Malley’s son, Dan O’Malley.
Gressett has challenged the line of succession in three elections, which has perpetually put him at odds with the DA’s administration. He ran against Yancey twice, once in 1994 and again in 1998. In 2002, he ran against Kochly during his first campaign for office. Since then, there has been tension between Gressett and Kochly’s administration. One way the administration has demonstrated its disfavor toward Gressett is by repeatedly passing him over for promotion, according to his attorneys. There has been a long-standing policy that all lawyers who reach their fifteen-year anniversary in the office automatically receive a promotion to a level-four pay grade. Gressett, however, was the only lawyer repeatedly passed over for that promotion, according to his attorneys. They note that he only finally received the promotion in his nineteenth year, presumably because he didn’t run against Kochly again in 2006.
But despite being on the outs with his bosses, the 21-year veteran deputy DA was popular with most of the 85 attorneys in the office. He had a reputation for being a good attorney who worked hard and was fun to be around, if a bit coarse at times.
Jane Doe, meanwhile, was a 29-year-old deputy district attorney who had worked for the office for slightly less than three years when the alleged rape occurred. She was considered smart, ambitious, and aggressive. But several co-workers described her to investigators as rough around the edges, and more than one of her supervisors described her as mentally unstable. Even Assistant Chief District Attorney Paul Sequeira, who conducted the investigation into Jane Doe’s rape accusations, said she was “unstable,” “up and down,” and “manic,” according to notes taken by Alameda County Investigator Cynthia Hall.
Jane Doe wrote of herself that “drama is part of my charm” in a September 2008 text message to co-worker Diana Weiss about a boyfriend who had broken up with her because he said she created too much drama. And in her November 5 statement to investigators, she admitted having a difficult working relationship with at least four female co-workers whom she regarded as sexual rivals for the attention of a male deputy district attorney who was not Gressett. Jane Doe said she hated one of the women with such intensity that it bordered on the “primordial.”
Indeed, the workplace environment in which Gressett and Jane Doe began their office flirtation was sexually charged. The sex conversations that took place in the district attorney’s office were freewheeling and seemed to know few bounds. Although last year the office moved into a new $26 million building, its culture seemed firmly locked in the 1970s.
Administrators have long been known for hiring female attorneys based partly on their appearance. The DA’s reputation for hiring a particular type of attractive woman is so widespread that at a recent retirement dinner for Public Defender David Coleman, one speaker quipped that “someone should tell the DA that diversity doesn’t mean different types of blonds,” according to several people who attended the dinner.
And even though about half the attorneys in the DA’s office are female, women are rarely promoted into the upper tiers of management. There is only one woman in charge of a division and there is only one woman who has reached the highest pay grade, according to Elle Falahat, an outside candidate for district attorney who has never worked in the office. “For women in the district attorney’s office, the ceiling is not glass — it’s stainless steel,” Falahat said. “There are no women in the top three administrative positions and there are no minority women in management at all.”
It isn’t clear whether this culture existed before Kochly took over in 2002, but if it did, he did nothing to curtail it, according to several deputy DAs. During his reign, sexual banter was commonplace. And it was not always men who initiated the conversations. According to notes from the investigation and interviews conducted by this newspaper, women participated equally in tales of rough sex, bondage, extramarital affairs, and sexual encounters involving multiple partners.
Explicit conversations are common in most sexual assault units, noted Deputy DA Tom Kensok, who works in the DA’s gang unit. Attorneys who work in sexual assault become desensitized to discussing extreme sexual acts. But in Contra Costa County, the rest of the office also proved to be fertile ground for sexual banter, Kensok said. “You could hear the same types of conversations on the fourth floor of the courthouse in the offices, hallways, and conference room where many of the attorneys gather for lunch,” he said. “A lot of it was joking. I made jokes myself.”
Other lawyers scoff at these claims. “We have one hundred attorneys who are working very hard on different floors, different departments and different buildings, and the idea they are all talking about sex is an exaggeration,” said Deputy DA Mark Peterson.
Still, sexual banter appears to have occurred at levels far beyond the norm. Anal sex was the hot topic among one group. According to one deputy DA, the topic became such a regular part of conversation that, about five years ago, two female deputy DAs founded the “Anal Club” at a wedding reception for two of their co-workers. Prospective club members had to state that they had participated in and enjoyed anal sex. The club was more talk than action, but its existence became well known. In fact, deputy DAs who didn’t meet the club’s membership requirements felt so left out that they started their own “Butt Pucker Club,” according to interviews conducted by Gressett’s attorneys.
Some people who have been following the case believe this highly charged atmosphere is partly responsible for what has turned out to be a shattering event for Michael Gressett, Jane Doe, and the district attorney’s office. One longtime public defender says the office’s reputation and effectiveness has been seriously compromised. “In court these are the same people who act like sanctimonious prudes about the people they are trying to convict,” he said. “They all ought to be incredibly ashamed of themselves.”
Gressett himself was known for talking about sex, which made some co-workers uncomfortable. But Jane Doe was not among them. Her former co-workers say she used foul language even in casual conversation and, like Gressett, talked about enjoying rough sex. In fact, Deputy DA Andrea Tavenier told investigators that one day when she and Jane Doe were at Starbucks, Doe talked about having a regular safe word, which was “banana.” A safe word is a code word or phrase used by the submissive partner in a rough-sex scenario to unambiguously communicate to the dominant partner that things have gone too far. In one of her statements to investigators, Jane Doe said that several co-workers including Gressett joked with her about the safe word, but that it was simply a joke.
Co-workers also told investigators that Jane Doe had expressed an explicit interest in Gressett prior to the alleged assault. Tavenier told investigators that during a casual breakfast with a group of deputy DAs at the Copper Skillet restaurant in Martinez, Jane Doe told everyone at the table that she wanted to “fuck Gressett.” Tavenier told investigators that on another occasion, at La Tapatia Restaurant, Doe told at least four attorneys, including Gressett, that she enjoyed rough sex and the use of weapons during sex. Deputy DA Teri Leoni told investigators that Doe told her in a private conversation that she wanted to have sex with Gressett while using a gun as a prop.
Co-workers say they repeatedly warned Jane Doe not to tell people about her feelings toward Gressett. Deputy District Attorneys Leoni and Weiss say they warned her on separate occasions that Gressett was radioactive as far as the administration was concerned. According to prosecutors’ interviews with Leoni, Weiss and Doe, if she told people she was sleeping with Gressett, it could cost her a permanent job.
Jane Doe’s three-year contract was about to expire around the time of the alleged sexual assault. And, according to text messages obtained by defense attorneys, which she sent to friends during the month before the alleged assault, she was worried about losing her job.
In fact, according to a message she sent to Deputy DA Weiss, Doe was rated seventh out of the eight contract attorneys in her class. These attorneys are typically rated on a combination of a written examination and supervisor evaluations. With such a dismal rating, it was almost certain that Jane Doe would not be offered a permanent job.
Like about half of the 85 attorneys who work for the Contra Costa County District Attorney, Doe was a contract attorney. New attorneys are given a three-year contract and only about half of them land permanent jobs when their contracts expire. Contract attorneys work like dogs to please their supervisors and improve their chances of landing a permanent job, said one former deputy DA. That makes them keen to get along within the office culture.
“You have to be perceived as a good worker who doesn’t cause trouble,” said the lawyer, who worked in the office for several years after her contract expired. “You want everyone to like you. So for example, if you’re offended by sex talk, you’re not going to say anything. You’re just going to smile and nod your head.”
Critics of the system say it creates a dog-eat-dog environment in which contract attorneys will do almost anything to keep their jobs — including stabbing co-workers in the back. “Friends turn on friends if they think they can gain a few points,” said another deputy DA, who now works in a different county. “The contract system makes animals out of people.”
Contra Costa County has the only DA’s office in the Bay Area — and possibly all of California — that uses the contract system, said former Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney Michael Menesini, who now works in the San Francisco DA’s office. Menesini said the system was adopted in 1978 to help the county through tough financial times. But since then, he said, it has morphed into something that abuses the labor pool and the taxpayers. Most other Bay Area DAs hire new lawyers on a six-month to one-year probationary period, after which they are almost guaranteed a permanent job unless there is some kind of problem.
“The idea is that the new hires are going to stay and be nurtured into seasoned attorneys, which benefits them, the office, and the taxpayer,” Menesini said. “In Contra Costa County, it’s not nurture, it’s torture. Contract attorneys will do almost anything to be hired and many are often hired not because they are qualified, but because they are good at palace politics.”
When Jane Doe began letting it be known around the office that she wanted to “fuck Gressett,” Leoni said she thought the two were sexually compatible based on their boasting and blathering. But no one could have seen how explosive their short attachment would be.
Jane Doe said Gressett invited her to lunch on May 8, 2008, and took her to his Martinez condominium. After giving her a tour, she later said, he produced a steak knife and began poking the end of the knife at her sweater and running it along her arms, breast, and neck.
The two apparently began kissing, and Gressett led Doe to his bedroom where they both removed their clothes prior to engaging in what she said she thought was going to be consensual sex. But Gressett suddenly became aggressive, she said. He turned her over and began forcibly sodomizing her, she said, despite her repeated pleas for him to stop.
Gressett then removed a handgun from a bedside drawer, pressed the muzzle to the back of her head, and continued to sodomize her, Jane Doe said. Gressett reached into the same nightstand for a set of handcuffs, which he used to cuff her ankle to her wrist. Leaving her on the bed, Jane Doe said Gressett left the bedroom and returned with a glass filled with ice cubes and an ice pick. Gressett then used the ice pick’s handle to insert the ice into her vagina and anus before sodomizing her again. At one point, Doe said, she heard a garage door open and called out for help, but Gressett told her to “shut the fuck up.”
In her statement, Jane Doe said the rape was so violent that there were significant smears of blood and feces on the sheets. Gressett eventually led her to the shower, she claimed, where he forced her to orally copulate him, raped her again, and ejaculated on her face, chest and neck. During the ride back to the office, Doe said, Gressett talked about killing her with the ice pick and then having sex with her still-warm corpse.
Jane Doe said in her statements that when she returned to work after the assault she was limping, disheveled, and bleeding from her rectum. But she did not seek medical attention or notify either the police or her bosses. Instead, about fifteen minutes after the alleged attack, she went shopping with DA Investigator Shawn Pate at the Martinez farmers market. Pate has since told investigators that he noticed nothing wrong with her.
Other than calling a friend, Jane Doe did not contact any authorities until four days later on May 12, according to the prosecution’s investigation notes.
Jane Doe made two official statements to investigators, one on September 26, 2008 and another on November 5, 2008. In the second statement, numerous facts changed or were explained differently than in the first statement. For instance, the two statements contradicted one another about whether the ice pick came into play before the gun, whether she was handcuffed before or after she took a shower, and whether Gressett ejaculated on her face or her back.
Of course, it’s not unusual for rape victims to experience post-traumatic stress disorder that makes it difficult to remember details of an assault, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. But Jane Doe’s testimony to investigators also differed in several regards that were unrelated to the alleged assault.
In her initial statement, she told investigators that she did not participate at all in anal sex. She later said she had experimented in high school and college. Her coyness about the subject surprised some co-workers who are aware of her official statements because they knew Jane Doe as a member in good standing of their office’s Anal Club. In fact, Deputy District Attorney Karen Zelis told investigators that most conversations about anal sex began with Jane Doe starting them. Jane Doe told Deputy DA Johanna Schonfield that she was such an enthusiast she had used a strap-on dildo to anally penetrate at least one of her sex partners, according to investigation notes.
Once the charges became public, other parts of Doe’s story changed as she retold it to co-workers and investigators. For instance, Deputy District Attorney Theresa McLaughlin told investigators that one day Jane Doe came into her office crying and confided that she had sustained a severed ovary during the assault and would not be able to have children. Deputy DA Melissa Smith told investigators that Jane Doe told her a similar story, although in that account Doe also claimed that she had suffered a substantial jaw injury and so much bruising that she looked as though she had been in a car accident.
But Gressett’s attorneys say they have subpoenaed Jane Doe’s medical records from January 2005 to October 2008 and that those from after the alleged rape do not support any of her claims. There is no scarring from the alleged assault nor does she show any damage whatsoever to her reproductive system. Jane Doe was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, a thinning of the bladder wall, which is sometimes caused by trauma, but defense attorneys say her medical records show the condition was pre-existing. And there is no known evidence than anyone else observed the bruises she claimed to have suffered, according to the prosecution’s investigation notes.
Another area in which Jane Doe’s story has changed significantly involves a previous sexual encounter between her and Gressett five days prior to the alleged assault. Jane Doe told Deputy DA Diana Weiss that she and Gressett had rough sex at her San Francisco apartment after a lunch date at Caffe Sport, according to the prosecution’s investigation notes. Weiss said that Jane Doe claimed that Gressett had choked her so hard that she had bruises on her neck. But in her two statements to investigators, Doe said she did not have sex with Gressett on that occasion because he could not maintain an erection, although she hedged by saying she tried to orally stimulate him and that there may have been some minor vaginal penetration. And again, Gressett’s attorneys say there is no corroborating witness for the bruises on her neck.
The final facts that seem at odds with the official narrative concern the ongoing contact between the suspect and victim after the alleged assault. In her November 5 statement to investigators, Jane Doe admitted that she continued to send text messages to Gressett for at least three days after the May 8 assault. The content of those messages are no longer available, but Jane Doe told investigators that two days after the assault she sent Gressett a pornographic picture of a woman who had a pair of testicles resting on the bridge of her nose, a sexual act known as “teabagging,” along with the message “Tag you’re it.” A few minutes later, she said she sent the same picture to her brother.
Jane Doe later told investigators that she sent Gressett the photo in order to lull him into a false sense of security so that she and her sister could murder him.
For his part, Gressett denies there was any blood or feces on his bed sheets or that he ever talked about killing Doe with the ice pick and abusing her dead corpse. But he doesn’t deny the sex acts occurred, except in one critical detail. He claims that every act that took place during that lunch break in his condominium was consensual.
A forensics team recovered Jane Doe’s DNA from the handle of an ice pick in Gressett’s condominium and on handcuffs in his bedside table. Authorities confiscated about 200 tablets of Viagra, a small amount of marijuana, and several guns that Gressett kept in his condominium, most of which belonged to his father.
Daniel Russo, Gressett’s lead attorney, said the lack of evidence in the case is so significant that charges should never have been brought against his client. “These prosecutors simply are not grounded in reality,” he said. “A careful reading of the statements, police reports, and the forensic evidence shows that this case is a complete fraud. If Michael Gressett was a tattooed, sex-registered felon, they would not have filed this case. They just wanted to destroy him.”
Jane Doe took an unusual route when she decided to report the alleged rape. She did not go to the police directly. Nor did she go to her or Gressett’s bosses. Instead she went to a private attorney named Tom McKenna. She later told investigators that she chose McKenna because if she ever woke up next to a dead body, “Tom McKenna is my guy.”
But McKenna is best known for handling drunk-driving cases and is not generally considered to be the type of attorney one would approach in such a case. However, McKenna’s partner at the time was Dan O’Malley, who happens to be running for district attorney next year. And O’Malley’s connections in Contra Costa County and the district attorney’s office are well-established.
O’Malley is the son of former District Attorney William O’Malley and the brother of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. He is a former Superior Court judge and is married to the current presiding judge of the Contra Costa County Superior Court, Mary Ann O’Malley. And his connections run deep in Kochly’s administration. The district attorney has officially endorsed O’Malley as his replacement in next year’s election and O’Malley regularly plays golf with Assistant Chief District Attorney Paul Sequeira.
Gressett’s attorneys say they suspect Jane Doe was lying when she told investigators she went directly to McKenna. They believe O’Malley was actually her go-to guy, and have subpoenaed the phone records of McKenna and O’Malley to prove it. And according to investigator’s notes, during drinks with several co-workers shortly after her meeting with McKenna, Jane Doe told Deputy DA Theresa McLaughlin that she had gone to O’Malley because her father is good friends with his sister.
Jane Doe has said in her various statements that she delayed reporting the alleged assault because she thought the case would be un-winnable and because she didn’t want her father to know. But investigators’ notes reveal that she had dinner with her father about four hours after the alleged assault took place. Gressett’s attorneys suspect that she told her father about her allegations that night and that her father, a retired Alameda County public defender, contacted Dan O’Malley, who arranged a meeting between her and McKenna. They also suspect that O’Malley contacted the DA’s office behind the scenes, which they hope to prove by obtaining his phone records. O’Malley has hired an attorney to fight their subpoena.
“As far as the alleged victim, it looks like this is yet another untruth,” Gressett’s lawyer Cardoza said. “She can never seem to tell what actually happened. It’s always a story of convenience.”
Perhaps the single most troubling aspect of the case against Gressett is the way the district attorney’s office reacted to the news that one of its employees had been violently raped. On May 12, 2008, four days after the alleged assault, Assistant Chief District Attorney Sequeira was notified of the accusations. Two days later, according to investigation notes, he sent Kochly a memo. But neither Kochly nor Sequeira took any more action for four and a half months, which is highly unusual given the serious nature of the allegations.
Jane Doe told investigators that she wanted Gressett fired, but did not want to file a criminal complaint. Nonetheless, Kochly should have assured the safety of his employees and the public by immediately putting Gressett on administrative leave until they found out exactly what had happened.
It is the responsibility of a district attorney to immediately report any serious incident of workplace violence to law enforcement, said W. Scott Thorpe, the chief executive officer of the California District Attorney’s Association. Thorpe noted that he has no direct knowledge of the Gressett case, “but normally a report of workplace violence, depending what it is, should go directly to law enforcement.”
The California Department of Occupational Safety and Health agrees. “An employer has a responsibility to take action,” said spokesman Dean Fryer. “The police should have been notified immediately in this case. It’s a high-risk situation that puts women in the office in harm’s way.”
Instead, Kochly and Sequeira allowed Gressett — who was never notified of Jane Doe’s allegations — to continue prosecuting sex crimes and freely roam the office where he interacted with female attorneys, staffers, and sex-crime victims. The DA’s office didn’t notify the Martinez police of the allegations until September 25, more than four and a half months after the assault, and Gressett wasn’t arrested until October 2, nearly five months after the alleged assault. The delay was striking given the DA’s subsequent assertion that Gressett is a violent rapist who should be locked away for life.
Once the DA’s office concluded that Jane Doe’s accusations had value, it began a three-agency investigation on September 26 with Sequeira as the lead investigator. But Sequeira was an odd choice to lead the investigation. It was known throughout the office that he had been hostile toward Gressett and Mark Peterson since both men challenged Kochly in the 2002 election. After Kochly was elected, he promoted Sequeira, who had actively campaigned for him and contributed the maximum amount to his campaign. Since then, as the office’s number three administrator, Sequeira has stood in the way of Gressett’s promotions, Cardoza said.
But the coming election puts Sequeira’s powerful position in jeopardy. Longtime Deputy District Attorney Peterson, a Concord city councilman who was Gressett’s supervisor in the sexual assault unit, is running for district attorney. Several deputy DAs believe that if Peterson wins, Sequeira’s fall from grace will be swift and possibly humiliating. “If Mark Peterson becomes our next DA,” said one deputy DA, “you can bet that Paul Sequeira will spend the rest of his career trying welfare fraud cases, and he knows it.”
Peterson, who is known by some co-workers as “The Preacher” because of his strong religious beliefs, has never said he would demote Sequeira if elected. In fact, several of Peterson’s supporters noted that Sequeira is one of the office’s better attorneys and say it would be counterproductive to demote him to a position beneath his skill level. But they also doubted that Sequeira would remain third in command.
Sometime in October, the district attorney’s office handed the case over to the California Attorney General’s office to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. But according to a filing by defense attorneys, Sequeira was still in charge of the investigation. He and his colleagues conducted an aggressive investigation in search of evidence against Gressett. They interviewed dozens of people who knew both the suspect and the victim: friends, family members, ex-lovers, and more than twenty of their own deputy district attorneys. Representatives from the Martinez police department, and sometimes the attorney general’s office, were present, but they didn’t contribute much to the interviews, according to defense attorneys. Kochly also brought in two outside investigators from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
One legal scholar told the Contra Costa Times that the DA’s office should have stayed out of the investigation completely. “It should be run entirely by the attorney general, even if necessary with help by a DA from another county,” said Robert Weisberg, director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “And if you need any of the internal DA’s to work on it, find ones who are as neutral as possible and under unbelievably strict rules. This just smells terrible. Why take the chance on this?”
But despite Sequeira’s history with Gressett and Peterson, Kochly put him in charge of the investigation. And Sequeira appears to have brought politics into the inquiry almost immediately. When he swore out Gressett’s arrest warrant, he noted in writing that Gressett ran for district attorney three times as though it were a crime.
Gressett’s attorneys say Sequeira bullied some of the deputy DAs he interviewed. He threatened known Peterson supporter Doug MacMasters with his job in order to get him to give testimony, according to the transcripts of the interview. Sequeira also was aggressive and hostile during his interview with Peterson, according to defense attorneys. Sequeira went so far off topic during the Peterson interview that when Deputy DA Bob Hole, who assisted in the investigation, listened to the taped interview, he wrote in his notes “no relevance to criminal case,” according to evidence obtained by defense attorneys.
After Peterson pointed out that Sequeira had a clear conflict of interest and should not be leading employee interviews, Kochly demoted him from supervisor of the sexual assault unit to attorney in the homicide unit. Peterson declined to discuss the interview other than to say that he’d expressed the opinion that Sequeira’s aggressive interviews reeked of impropriety. “I raised my concerns about how the investigation was being handled and I was subsequently demoted.”
The demotion shocked several deputy DAs particularly because Peterson had just won a high-profile death penalty case against sex-crime killer Darryl Thomas Kemp for the 1978 murder of Armida Wiltsey while she jogged around Lafayette Reservoir.
Despite the apparent flaws and glaring conflicts of interest on display in the case, the California Attorney General’s Office decided to press charges against Gressett. In August, Judge Carlos Ynostroza ruled that Jane Doe would have to testify at a preliminary hearing. Under the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act of 1990, which is designed to reduce the number of times victims have to appear in court, rape victims typically aren’t asked to testify at preliminary hearings. But Gressett’s attorneys were able to demonstrate enough inconsistencies in Jane Doe’s various statements that Ynostroza ruled that they could call her to the witness stand during the preliminary hearing. Defense attorneys were eager to finally question Jane Doe, but Deputy Attorney General Peter Flores Jr. opted to seek an indictment through a grand jury, where jurors would only hear Jane Doe’s side of the story.
Last week, a 19-member grand jury indicted Gressett on thirteen felony counts after hearing from 33 witnesses. He was indicted on four counts of forced sodomy, four counts of forced sexual penetration, two counts of rape, and one count each of forced oral copulation, criminal threats, and false imprisonment. There also are criminal enhancements for use of weapons. If convicted, Gressett could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Gressett’s defense investigator, Mark Harrison, a former police officer who has worked in Contra Costa County criminal justice system for the last 21 years, said he was not surprised that the grand jury indicted his client. “The grand jury only hears a one-sided narrative,” Harrison said. “The DA comes in and tells the jury that they have enough evidence to convict and the grand jury usually believes them. There’s an old saying that the first version of the story you hear is always very convincing until you hear the truth.”
Jane Doe is now working as a deputy district attorney in another county. She was contacted for this story but declined to comment. Neither Kochly nor Sequeira returned calls to discuss their handling of the investigation. Nor did Flores from the attorney general’s office respond to calls asking for comment. Supervising Deputy Attorney General Joyce Blair said she does not comment on any of her cases, but noted that prosecutors are confident in taking the case to trial.
As for Gressett, since he was fired he has apparently devoted himself to working on his case, friends say. He has attempted to maintain some normalcy in his life by attending college football games and spending time with his son, and he was recently re-elected as president of his condominium association. Asked to sit for an interview, Gressett declined. “It’s just not my turn to talk yet.”