More than a year after the original conviction, a Monterey County Superior Court judge ruled on June 28 against a motion to retry the case of Joseph Sampognaro Jr., who was convicted last year in a jury trial for the September 2020 murder of his father, Joseph Sampognaro Sr. in Carmel Valley.
Attorney Tara Higgins from the county's Alternate Defenders Office, began pursuing a retrial after it came to light that a member of Sampognaro's counsel in the original case, Rachel Miller from the Public Defenders Office, had a sexual relationship with the courtroom's bailiff during the case. Higgins also argued that some jurors were seen sleeping during parts of the trial and potential murder weapon was found in the possession of one of the witnesses who was allegedly at the scene of the crime.
However, Judge Mark Hood, in a decision published on June 28, said the new arguments were not enough diminish the overwhelming evidence against Sampognaro or cast doubt over the original conviction. He wrote that although evidence proved Miller had a sexual relationship with the bailiff, Higgins' arguments "failed to demonstrate that the brief affair adversely affected the adequacy of his representation or that a reasonable probability exists that...the result of the proceeding would have been different."
Hood also wrote that "no credible evidence supports" the assertions of sleeping jurors or that the gun found post-conviction was the murder weapon.
"Error in a criminal case is harmless unless the defendant can demonstrate a reasonable probability of a more favorable outcome," Hood wrote. "Here, there was a strong, pervasive and credible evidence of motive, planning, threats to kill...opportunity, pursuit of a weapon, percipient eye witness identification, flight bloody matching shoe prints and blood on defendant with little in the way of defense rebuttal."
Sampognaro, who was convicted of first-degree murder, evading a peace officer, evading a peace officer against traffic and possession of a firearm by a felon, can still appeal the original conviction. If not, he will next face sentencing, scheduled for next month.