Sandeep "Sonny" Bharadia- Georgia- Convicted in 2003 Oct 17, 2015 14:52:58 GMT -5
Post by Scumhunter on Oct 17, 2015 14:52:58 GMT -5
(Above Photo Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Sandeep Bharadia will be my Innocence Project case of the month for October, and the first one I have ever written about for this site. Bharadia was convicted in Georgia in 2003 for a 2001 sexual assault that the Georgia Innocence Project says he did not commit- and there is DNA evidence to prove it. The problem is- that DNA evidence seems to be the main source of a legal technicality that has kept him in prison. Below is the initial Georgia Innocence Project description of the case:
Sandeep “Sonny” Bharadia
by Georgianna Verhage, former GIP intern
"From the time he was a little boy, Sandeep “Sonny” Bharadia has been gullible; unfortunately, this sweet little boy would grow up to find out how dangerous his gullibility would be.
Growing up in a small town in the south of London, Sonny was always surrounded by his large extended family. When he was eight years old, his father opened a small company and moved his family to the Atlanta suburb of Tucker, Georgia. Sonny and his immediate family were suddenly in a new country without their family support.
Sonny adapted to his new home quickly. As a young man, Sonny liked school. He especially enjoyed learning about human behavior and his favorite subjects were sociology and psychology. Outside of school, he enjoyed skateboarding until he got his driver’s license and became interested in cars. He even opened up his own car audio company in Atlanta after graduation.
Then things began to change for Sonny. He began to get into trouble with the law. In his early 20’s he was arrested several times on theft charges, usually involving cars, and in 1996 he was sent to prison. After spending five years in a prison cell, Sonny knew he needed to change his life. He was going to apply to college and study architecture. Then one day in November 2001, all of his dreams ended when he let a friend borrow his motorcycle.
That same day a woman returned to her home in Thunderbolt, a Savannah suburb. When she closed the door she saw a stranger standing in her apartment. The perpetrator threatened her, assaulted her, and stole several items from her house. Although the perpetrator told her an accomplice was waiting outside the door, the victim never actually saw anyone else.
Ironically, it was Sonny’s tip to the police that made it possible to “solve” the crime. Sonny had loaned his motorcycle to his friend, Sterling Flint, but when Flint refused to return it, Sonny, feeling again like a gullible fool, called the police and reported that Flint had stolen his motorcycle. When the police arrived at Flint’s girlfriend’s house to investigate the stolen motorcycle, they found items related to the earlier assault (items stolen from the assault victim, the knife used to threaten her and the gloves worn by the perpetrator). When questioned by police, Flint claimed that the items belonged to Sonny.
The police arrested Flint for burglary and, based on Flint’s statements, also arrested Sonny. The victim picked Sonny out of a line-up but also said she recognized Flint. Based on the identifications and the evidence found in Flint’s possession, both men were indicted for the crimes. While Flint negotiated a plea agreement with the prosecution of 24 months for theft by receiving stolen property, Sonny pleaded not guilty. He believed that his lawyer would prove during the trial that he did not commit the crime. Sonny felt more gullible than ever when the jury found him guilty. Currently, Sonny is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for an aggravated sodomy conviction and two twenty-year sentences for aggravated sexual battery and burglary.
Remember the gloves found in Flint’s possession? The gloves worn by the perpetrator? These gloves are the evidence that proves Sonny’s innocence.
At the time of trial, Sonny’s lawyer did not know that the gloves could be tested for DNA. After his conviction, Sonny argued his trial lawyer was ineffective for not testing the gloves and asked for DNA testing, which the judge allowed. DNA testing completed a year after his conviction showed that the DNA on the gloves did not match Sonny. Unfortunately, even with this new evidence, the judge found that the trial lawyer was not ineffective and denied Sonny a new trial. Because the DNA evidence was so crucial to his innocence claim, Sonny’s appellate lawyer contacted the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP) for help. In 2011, GIP began representing Sonny. We immediately requested that the DNA profile from the gloves be run against known offenders in the Combine DNA Index System (CODIS) database. This request was granted and the search was successful. The DNA on the gloves was, in fact, Sterling Flint’s!
So, why is Sonny still in jail? In 2012, Sonny’s motion for new trial was denied. Under Georgia law, a defendant may receive a new trial based on DNA evidence if the evidence has been newly discovered since the time of the conviction. Despite acknowledging the evidence could have led to Sonny’s acquittal, the trial court found that the gloves were available for testing at the time of the initial trial in 2003. That’s right – the same judge who said Sonny’s trial lawyer was not ineffective is now saying the lawyer should have asked for the DNA testing before trial. In September of 2013, GIP volunteer lawyers Steve Sparger and Alissa Jones argued Sonny’s case to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Unfortunately, that court held that Sonny did not show enough effort to have the gloves tested before his trial or in the period between his conviction and the motion filed by GIP in 2011. By requiring prisoners like Sonny – with a serious lack of funds and access to the world beyond prison walls – to gather DNA evidence and prove their innocence themselves, the court is setting the bar for exoneration very high, if not unreasonably high, seeing that the DNA database needed to uncover a match is completely in control of the State. In fact, a court order is required to run a test.
Confused? Frustrated? So are we.
Despite feeling “hollowed out” by the recent decision, Sonny maintains his strong faith which has been what indisputably has gotten him through the past 12 years behind bars. He writes about his life which helps him cope with his situation. He believes that every life event shapes him and will eventually lead to something good. Even though he is sitting in prison because a “friend” took advantage of his gullibility, he just can’t give up on others. Knowing what it feels like to be misunderstood, he always tries to relate to others: “If you don’t give people a chance, you’ll never know what they are really about.” While he sometimes struggles with the fact that people don’t believe in his innocence, an Atlanta Journal Constitution article covering his appeal has made him more hopeful about receiving attention for his case. “People are finding out,” he says. He is determined to have the truth discovered in a new trial. Sonny will have one last chance at getting a new trial when the Georgia Supreme Court hears oral argument in his case in January, 2015.
Honestly, Sandeep “Sonny” Bharadia’s positive attitude inspires all of us at GIP. Having DNA proof of the identity of the real perpetrator, and knowing that an innocent man is languishing in a prison cell because of a procedural issue, makes us all angry. It is hard to keep fighting a system that thinks this result is just. It is Sonny, a sweet but gullible young man, and many other innocent men & women in prison that keep us going."
Ok that was their initial article- and here are the 2015 updates:
On Monday, June 29th, 2015, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that because the Bharadia's legal team didn’t try to obtain the DNA evidence before trial, they can’t use the evidence now as a basis for granting Bharadia a new one. This is despite the Georgia Innocence Project pointing out it was Bharadia's lawyer who chose not to have the gloves tested- and that Bharadia would have never said to not the test the DNA that he knew would not be his.
The Georgia Innocence Project has filed a habeas corpus petition for Bharadia and if it is denied, they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Even the New York Times wrote an op-ed on this case and suggested it would be a good case for the U.S. Supreme Court, and the title of the article was "When Innocence Is No Defense."
Thoughts? I explained that this section was just to discuss cases done by the Innocence Project, and not necessarily to go "Hey, this guy is innocent." but I am amazed at the legal technicalities here when it seems fairly obvious Bharadia should at least be granted a new trial based on the DNA evidence- which ONLY Sterling Flint matched to.
Basically, if the DNA evidence came up AFTER Bharadia's trial, he might have been given a re-trial or released by now. But because his attorney was incompetent (and how they can say he wasn't is beyond me), he has to suffer. Why exactly is it Bharadia's fault he had a crappy lawyer? I still don't get how this Judge can say "Mr. Bharadia, my one tiny criticism of your first lawyer I agree with you on is he really should have had those gloves that could have exonerated you tested for DNA, but other than that he wasn't incompetent"
This case, to me, represents a huge flaw in the justice system in the state of Georgia. Technically, you can say the Georgia Supreme Court went by the technical law, but it's one thing to not give someone money in a small claims lawsuit because of a legal technicality. It's another to deny a potentially innocent man his freedom because of a legal technicality. I would argue that the Georgia Supreme Court still wasn't right in their interpretation since Bharadia obviously did not willingly decline having the DNA tested, his incompetent lawyer did. (Remember the basically the standard here seems to be make the accused gather DNA evidence themselves- which as the GIP mentioned is ridiculous in it's own right- but still- even by that stupid standard (which is a severe understatement)- I would argue legally speaking Bharadia was not aware he could gather the DNA evidence and therefore the ruling was incorrect).