The Tulare County District Attorney’s Office will not revisit a conviction integrity review (CIR) performed in 2019 that reaffirmed Oscar Clifton killed Donna Jo Richmond on the day after Christmas in 1975. The announcement follows the recent publication of a book-length exposé that claims to provide overwhelming evidence of Clifton’s innocence.
Author Says DA is Lying
The book’s author, Tony Reid – an LA-based attorney and private detective – says officials at the DA’s office fixed the case against Clifton in 1976, with District Attorney Jay Powell leading what amounts to a conspiracy to frame Clifton. Further, Reid maintains the CIR performed in 2019 by the current District Attorney, Tim Ward, was based on incomplete information. Ward’s refusal to perform a more complete review is a criminal act, Reid said.
The DA’s official statement on the CIR, issued on January 8, 2019, says the attorneys who performed the review used “police reports, photographic evidence, forensic laboratory reports (including DNA analysis), trial and appellate transcripts, and a complete review of information submitted to the Office of the District Attorney by supporters of Clifton.” Reid, however, says that isn’t so.
“To say that they’ve looked at everything is a flagrant lie,” Reid said.
Reid was reacting to recent statements from Assistant District Attorney David Alavezos, who led the team that performed the CIR reaffirming Clifton’s conviction. Standing firmly behind his office’s work, Alavezos maintains there is insufficient evidence to require a new CIR. Yet Reid vehemently disagrees.
Specifically, Reid said the Office of the Tulare County District Attorney does not possess a complete transcript of Clifton’s 1976 trial. Neither does the DA’s office have the full forensic report from DNA testing performed in 2003, Reid said, documentation that shows the test implicating Clifton decades after the fact was contaminated.
DA’s Documentation is Incomplete
Alavezos said there is no additional evidence regarding the killing of Richmond that his office has not thoroughly reviewed on multiple occasions.
“If someone were to come out with some new physical evidence – I’m not sure what purpose it would serve, everyone involved is dead or has moved on – we would look at new physical evidence,” Alavezos said. “But, there isn’t any new physical evidence. We are done, done, done.”
Clifton died in prison in 2013. Members of his family, including his children, still reside in Visalia. Vacating Clifton’s conviction on the basis of wrongdoing by Powell’s office could also call into question other convictions obtained during his tenure.
According to Reid, the DA’s office only reviewed a portion of the trial transcripts in making the CIR. An analysis of the CIR included with a press release from 2019 announcing the findings – an attachment entitled Memorandum for Record – states flatly the CIR only included the trial transcripts the DA’s office had on hand.
A section of the analysis headed “Materials Considered and Reviewed” gives an inventory of the documentation reviewed by the DA’s office. It states only “available” trial transcripts were reviewed:
The [CIR] Unit reviewed thousands of pages of evidence which included: police reports, photographic evidence, forensic laboratory reports, available trial transcripts, numerous Writs and Appeals in conjunction with the associated habeas transcripts of witness testimony, post-conviction DNA evidence reports; as well as a complete review of information provided to us by Clifton supporters related to Oscar Clifton’s conviction for the 1975 murder of Donna Jo Richmond.
Reid has the entire certified copies of the trial transcripts and has offered them to Ward’s office. He received no response from the DA or from the Office of the Attorney General to that offer.
According to Reid, he offered a court-conformed copy of the entire 1976 Clifton trial transcript to the DA’s office. That offer came prior to a broadcast interview in January 2019, during which Alavezos and Ward stated the full trial transcripts were “unavailable.” Reid now says the DA must admit the omission, including alerting the AG’s office, and correct the “extrajudicial false statements” made to the press and the public.
Repeated failure to correct the fault, Reid said, constitutes an ongoing crime on the part of Ward and Alavezos.
Officials at the DA’s office, Reid maintains, are aware of the documentation he possesses – 15 bank boxes of official documents, transcripts and reports, including the full trial transcript – but have made no effort to obtain it from him.
“This is not in any way in good faith. There was no effort,” he said. “They (DA officials) don’t want to see the evidence. They don’t want to consider the evidence. So, they don’t look at it.”
Further, in reaffirming their statements from 2019 for this article, the DA’s office has reconfirmed ongoing criminal malfeasance on its part, according to Reid. Ward and Alavezos, Reid said, are materially misrepresenting the process used to create the CIR, misrepresenting the deposition of defense evidence supporting Clifton’s innocence and refusing to honor demands they must reexamine that evidence.
“You (this article’s author) have a new violation. You captured a new misrepresentation to you,” Reid said. “You can take that to the attorney general’s office.”
Editor’s note: There was insufficient time to contact the AG’s office regarding the Clifton case prior to publication of this article. The Valley Voice intends to contact the AG about this case for future reporting.
DA Says All Documents Reviewed
While performing the CIR, Alavezos said he revisited all available documentation regarding Clifton’s conviction.
“I went through all the reports,” Alavezos said. “Everything.”
Reid said this is not possible, as the Alavezos and the CIR unit still do not appear to possess the full trial transcripts, despite him offering them a complete digital copy. Reid’s documents of the Clifton trial include all official reports, from Clifton’s booking report the night of his arrest in December 1975 through the 2011 forensic report from the Department of Justice regarding DNA collected at the site where Richmond’s body was discovered.
Reid said he also offered the transcript to the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office in 2017. That offer was declined.
The Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, Reid said, does not possess or have access to many of those documents in his keeping. They include copies of a notebook found at the crime scene allegedly containing the handwriting of convicted Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo, who was working as an officer for the Exeter Police Department in 1975, as well as original police reports and the report of an investigator hired by the defense, all of which establish clearly the likelihood someone else besides Clifton was responsible for the death of Richmond, according to Reid.
Despite Reid’s assertion he offered the documents to the DA’s office and was never answered, Alavezos said the CIR included a review of all documentation Reid and other Clifton supporters offered him or his office.
“Everything they offered us, we looked at,” Alavezos said.
It is unclear if the DA’s office now has the complete trial transcripts. Asked if he or the DA’s office is now in possession of a complete official copy of the trial transcript, Alavezos declined to comment. He again referenced the 2019 press release regarding the CIR as the DA’s final word on the subject, refusing to discuss any specific issues raised by Reid in his reporting.
Why Perform a CIR?
According to Alavezos, the impetus for performing a conviction integrity review of the Clifton case was the identification of former Exeter Police Department officer Joseph DeAngelo as the Golden State Killer. Also known as the East Area Rapist, the Visalia Ransacker and the Original Night Stalker, DeAngelo admitted his role in a string of violent crimes, including burglary, rape and murder, carried out over several decades.
His crimes were ongoing during his time as an Exeter police officer, and he was employed there when Richmond was killed. Her body was later discovered in an orange grove just outside of that city.
In contradiction to a previous article on the subject published by the Valley Voice, Alavezos said the CIR was started when he learned about DeAngelo’s crimes and the local connection.
“We had a DNA sample (from the Richmond crime scene),” Alavezos said. “The first thing I did was say let’s take a look.”
Alavezos said he made a comparison of DeAngelo’s DNA with DNA collected from Richmond’s body. The results showed the suspect DNA could not have come from DeAngelo, but could have come from Clifton, he said.
“I got the profile from the Golden State Killer and compared it,” he said.
Reid again disputes this timeline. He said he contacted the state AG’s office to demand a CIR, and that pushed the Tulare County District Attorney into action.
“We wrote to the AG’s office in September of 2018,” he said. “That’s five months after the arrest and identification of Joe DeAngelo.”
Before Reid approached the AG, the Tulare County DA’s office had no mechanism in place to perform a CIR, he said.
“At the time we wrote the letter, there was no conviction integrity review unit in Tulare County,” Reid said.
Reid contacted Cliff Zall, an attorney in the AG’s office, regarding the initiation of a CIR, he said. Zall then worked with Ward and Alavezos to produce a CIR, according to Reid.
“They (Ward and Alavezos) went to Sacramento,” Reid said. “Out of the blue, here’s this conviction integrity review.”
‘Hiding Behind Willful Ignorance’
Regardless of why the CIR was performed, Reid says it is deeply flawed and incomplete. More importantly, Ward and Alavezos, Reid asserts, are aware of the CIR’s shortcomings but remain unwilling to address the alleged faults.
“In the end, the problem is they’re hiding behind a willful ignorance,” Reid said. “They’re actively refusing to look at these documents. They say they looked at everything when they know these documents (those not in the DA office’s possession) are all fully available. It has been more than four full years of deceit and active ignorance to say otherwise.”
To make his point, Reid highlights the CIR statements about DNA evidence gathered from Richmond’s body, which the DA maintains does not exclude Clifton as the killer. Specifically, the Memorandum for Record from 2019 states:
During the 2011 analysis, a known sample of Oscar Clifton’s Y-STR DNA was compared to the partial profile developed from the semen attached to Donna Jo’s public (sic) hair. Clifton’s DNA profile was consistent at all three DNA locations. Thus, Clifton cannot be eliminated as the contributor of the semen found on the victim. The DNA analysis provides additional support for the conviction of Oscar Clifton in the murder of Donna Jo Richmond.
Reid, however, said the documentation from the DOJ shows the DNA sample from the Richmond crime scene was contaminated before testing, perhaps during the decades between its collection and the testing, or during the testing itself. A forensic report from the California Department of Justice made in 2011 states the reagent used in the testing was contaminated, rendering the test inconclusive.
According to the 2011 CalDOJ report, “no interpretation of these alleles is being made.”
Based on the supposed assertions to the contrary by Ward and Alavezos made to the press in 2019 about the 2011 report, Reid said members of the CIR unit did not review the entire 2011 forensic report from CalDOJ.
“There is no indication that they do (have the full forensic report),” Reid said.
Further, the DA’s office did not have the 2011 CalDOJ report reviewed by an outside expert, Reid believes.
“Did they get the opinion of a forensic scientist before they made their report?” he said. “I know they didn’t, because he would have spotted the error.”
More importantly, Reid said an analysis of the same sample conducted in 2003 also showed it contained no cellular material. According to a letter issued to the court by the technician who performed the test, the sample contains no sperm. The letter is dated June 23, 2003.
The official review of the sample concluded there was “no cellular material seen; only debris; no sperm.”
Additionally, there are questions about the validity of tests performed on evidence during the original investigation in the mid-1970s, Reid said.
Conflict of Interest at California Attorney Generals Office
With Ward and Alavezos sticking to what Reid believes is a false narrative, the responsibility for producing a factually correct CIR now rests with the Office of the California Attorney General. This is especially true now that past statements the pair have made about the case, statements Reid says are false, have been repeated again as part of the public record.
“Why can’t the attorney general’s office say this is an abuse of your (Ward’s) office?” Reid said. “It is a violation of professional standards to misrepresent the fcts to the press.”
Yet the AG has not done so.
Startlingly, Reid said he discovered a connection between the attorney handling the CIR for the AG’s office and the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office that could constitute a conflict of interest.
For six to seven months after the CIR was issued, Reid was in communication with Cliff Zall, an AG attorney who reviews cases of exoneration and compensation for the agency. During their communications, Zall failed to reveal his father worked for District Attorney Jay Powell while Powell was prosecuting the Clifton case, Reid said.
“Suddenly one night, I came across a name that’s quite startling in the 1975 and ’76 newspapers: Harvey Zall,” Reid said. “It turns out Harvey Zall was in the Tulare County DA’s office at the time the investigation was proceeding. It turns out the guy I was dealing with (at the AG’s office regarding the Clifton CIR) was Harvey’s son. He never made any mention his father was working for the DA’s office.”
When asked about the connection, Cliff Zall immediately offered to recuse himself from the case, Reid said.
“He never made the slightest hint,” Reid said.
Cliff Zall, Reid said, admitted he discussed the Clifton CIR with Harvey Zall while he was working with the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office.
“While he was reviewing the case, he was discussing it with his father,” Reid said.
Importantly, Reid said Harvey Zall and former DA Powell disliked each other intensely. When Harvey Zall was attempting to garner a nomination for a state-level position, Powell testified he was not fit for the job.
“What I’m saying is there was a huge amount of animosity that existed between Harvey (Zall) and the Tulare County DA’s office,” Reid said. “I don’t know how he (Cliff Zall) didn’t hand this matter off to someone else.”
Reid said he complained to the AG’s office about the possibility Cliff Zall had a conflict of interest when dealing with the Tulare County DA, one Zall recognized when he offered to recuse himself. He was met with stony silence, he said.
“They just blinked at that as well,” Reid said.
Despite the possible conflict, Reid said Cliff Zall was forthcoming about his interactions with the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office. According to Reid’s recounting of Zall’s statements, Ward and Alavezos did not believe they needed a full set of documents while performing the CIR.
“Their line has always been we know what happened,” Reid said. “They don’t.”
Reid’s book 12/26/75: Twelve · Twenty-Six · Seventy-Five is available at 12-26-75.com and at the Exeter Book Garden, 189 E. Pine St.