The exoneration of Julio Gomez, a Mexican national charged with murder and facing a potential death sentence, required a team effort. As outlined in the accompanying article from The Palm Beach Post, “Mistaken Identities,” Julio Gomez was charged with a gruesome homicide based on a bad identification from a cooperating witness.
Under the supervision of Fred Susaneck and John Riordan, attorneys appointed to represent Gomez, Complete Legal Investigations, Inc. undertook the daunting task of gathering work records, interviewing witnesses, and assembling evidence to establish the mistaken identification. The defense investigation began in late April 2010.
Mark Murnan is a veteran criminal defense investigator and certified legal investigator, who coordinated the investigation. Wendy Murnan is a licensed private investigator and certified paralegal. Wendy began contacting Gomez’ employers and medical providers to obtain work documents and medical records. Wendy also began gathering records to establish the identity of the real suspect. Nina Martinez, an experienced bilingual investigator with legal training from her native Venezuela, conducted numerous interviews with Gomez’ co-workers and relatives. Support staff organized the numerous documents and answered calls, many from Gomez’ friends and relatives, who were concerned about the progress of the case and the future of Gomez.
“It would have been impossible for a single investigator to accomplish all of these tasks in the time span we did,” says Mark Murnan. “It would have taken months for a single investigator to locate the witnesses, conduct the interviews, and gather the records we obtained in just weeks.
“We believed an innocent man was in jail, and time was of the essence.”
Part of the problem, Mark explained, was that the key witnesses were migrant farm workers who traveled across the southeast working different crops. “In the winter, they harvested oranges in central Florida,” he said. “In the other months, they traveled to Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, and West Virginia. We had only a few weeks to conduct the interviews.”
Nina Martinez was able to arrange for several of the witnesses to travel to West Palm Beach. “We worked all evening, taking affidavits from them,” Martinez said. Several of the witnesses were undocumented workers, who were concerned about the possibility of a trial and the potential for deportation themselves if they cooperated.
“It took some time to reassure them,” Martinez commented.
During the first weeks after the client was interviewed, Wendy Murnan put together an employment timeline from documents furnished by witnesses and contacted several of Gomez’ employers. “Most of them really wanted to help Julio out,” she said. “They all thought highly of [Julio] and knew he couldn’t have been in West Palm Beach at the time of the murder.”
Work records began coming in by fax and mail. Wendy used the documents to assemble the critical time line. This time line confirmed that Gomez was not in West Palm Beach in December 2008. Instead, she established that he was working in Central Florida every day from November 2008 through March 2009.
“I found criminal traffic tickets issued to the other Julio Gomez, the actual suspect,” Wendy Murnan said. “They were issued in April 2008 and he appeared in court in West Palm Beach on April 30,” according to a court transcript that was obtained. Employment records for the client reflected that in April 2008, the “wrong” Julio Gomez was working at a farm in Bowling Green, Florida, 200 miles away from Palm Beach County.
“[The documents] got us all really excited,” she said. “We knew we had some proof.”
Mark Murnan was able to locate and interview the “real” Gomez’ employer and landlord. The landlord established that the suspect had rented an apartment in Greenacres for two years. The timeline, however, established that the “wrong” Gomez had been all over the country for the two years preceding the homicide.
Next, the employer advised Mark Murnan that the “real” Gomez had attended an English language school somewhere in the vicinity. Mark located the school on Forest Hill Boulevard, only two miles from the “real” Gomez’ apartment.
“They had his attendance records,” Murnan noted, “but they didn’t have his photograph. The system had been corrupted by a virus.”
Buried in the discovery was a report by one of the investigating officers. The report mentioned that the police had discovered a photograph of the “real” Gomez at his apartment. The employer confirmed that he was shown the photograph by the police during his interview.
“That photo was never included in the discovery,” Murnan said. “They had a picture of the “real” Julio Gomez the whole time.”
With all the documents and interviews gathered and arranged chronologically, Susaneck was able to schedule a meeting with the prosecutor. On July 1, 2010, Susaneck, Riordan, and Mark Murnan made their presentation to the prosecutor, with the lead detective also present.
On July 9, 2010, just two months after the defense investigation began, Gomez was ordered to be released on his own recognizance. One week later, an Order was issued dismissing the charges against the “wrong” Julio Gomez.
Mark Murnan stresses that this investigation would never have been accomplished so quickly with a single investigator. It was a team effort that secured the information necessary to accomplish justice for Julio Gomez in such a short time.
“The language barriers, the circumstances of the undocumented workers, and the understanding of what was important, required the efforts of the talented people on our team,” Murnan explained. “If one investigator had tried to do all of this alone, Mr. Gomez would still be in jail, possibly facing the death penalty.”
Wendy shared that “I look at Julio’s photo everyday as a free man, and I remember why we do what we do.”
“This was one of the most gratifying results I have ever had in my career as a defense investigator,” Mark stated. “It was a real honor to be able to assist Julio with the talents of our experienced staff at Complete Legal Investigations.”