New murder trial requested
Attorney argues inadequate defense in '92 shooting
Two attorneys for a man convicted of murder in the early 1990s squared off in court Wednesday, as one argued the other ineptly handled the case at trial.
Harry Warren originally defended James P. Ludlow in the shooting death of builder Tracy Robbins. On Wednesday, Warren told a judge he thought Ludlow did it — and that he didn’t look into the possibility there was another suspect.
“I was satisfied that the evidence showed that Mr. Ludlow was the shooter,” Warren said.
But Ludlow’s new attorney said Warren shouldn’t have been satisfied. David J. Brown is asking Douglas County District Judge Jack Murphy this week to give Ludlow a new trial, based on forensic evidence he says casts doubt on the credibility of the only eyewitness.
To win a new trial for Ludlow, Brown must convince Murphy that Warren was ineffective at trial and that it affected the outcome of the case.
Ludlow was convicted in 1992 of shooting Robbins, based largely on the word of one person: Robbins’ girlfriend, exotic dancer Valerie Hartley. Ludlow said he was too drunk to remember the shooting; Hartley told police Ludlow awoke from a drunken stupor and shot Robbins without warning in the kitchen of Robbins’ home south of Lawrence.
But Brown says newly analyzed bullet fragments and other forensic evidence show there were two guns fired in the home, contradicting Hartley’s claim that only one gun was fired.
Brown called Warren as a witness Wednesday and spent much of the day asking him about his role on the case — which witnesses he interviewed, how often he spoke to Ludlow before trial and why he didn’t look into reports that Hartley was violent with Robbins.
Warren argued at trial that Ludlow was too drunk to form the intent required for first-degree murder. Jurors instead found him guilty of second-degree murder.
“You never investigated a defense that might have led to his acquittal,” Brown said.
“I didn’t see such a defense,” Warren said.
Ludlow, 36, has been in prison the past decade. He sat at the defendant’s table in the courtroom wearing a red jumpsuit. Members of Robbins’ family sat on the other side of the courtroom.
Brown’s argument about forensic evidence is based, in part, on the opinion of a surgeon who treated Hartley, who also was shot that night. Dr. Gary Baker said he believed her wounds came from a gun smaller than the 30.06 hunting rifle prosecutors believe Ludlow used to kill Robbins.
But on cross-examination Wednesday, Baker acknowledged he couldn’t conclusively say that Hartley’s wounds didn’t come from a 30.06.
Dist. Atty. Charles Branson — who normally would be charged with arguing that Ludlow had a fair trial — recused himself from the case earlier this year because Brown was his campaign supporter and adviser.
The case is being handled instead by Deputy Atty. Gen. Jared Maag. Former Douglas County Sheriff Rick Trapp — who originally prosecuted Ludlow as an assistant district attorney and is now working in the state attorney general’s office — also is working on the case.
The hearing is expected to continue today.