BOISE — Following a discovery this summer, attorneys representing a man sentenced to death for killing his wife in 2002 say the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office has for 16 years held onto information helpful to his case they likely should have turned over during his 2004 trial.
A state-appointed attorney representing Azad Abdullah, 43, made that claim in a Sept. 8 petition for post-conviction relief. The petition also alleges the case’s lead detective lost evidence that could have been helpful to Abdullah’s case.
Abdullah was sentenced to death in 2005 following a weekslong trial during which a jury convicted him of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, injury to a child, and first-degree arson. Police and prosecutors say Abdullah killed his wife in their Boise home before setting the house on fire with gasoline.
On Aug. 25, 2004, just before jury selection was set to start, prosecutors disclosed one of their attorneys working on the case, Erika Klein, had been romantically involved with the case’s lead Boise police detective, Tod Littlefield, according to the petition.
Klein was removed from the case, and Shawna Dunn, the office’s chief criminal deputy, took her place, according to the petition. The case’s judge, Cheri C. Copsey, then reviewed all personnel files of the officers who could have testified, to see if there was other evidence favorable to the defense. She didn’t find that any of the information was, so Abdullah’s trial attorneys never deposed, or asked to testify or give a written statement under oath, Littlefield or Klein.
According to documents filed with the petition, Littlefield’s supervisor ordered him to have no further contact with Klein during the trial, then had to verbally reprimand him, declare him insubordinate and, eventually, suspend him when he disobeyed that order. The suspension followed the third reprimand, according to the petition, and it came in the middle of the trial, according to Abdullah’s attorneys. They claim Littlefield testified while he was suspended from duty.
Prosecutors are, by law, required to turn over information favorable to the defense, and Abdullah’s attorneys argue Littlefield’s disobeying orders and his eventual suspension were favorable to the defense.
According to sworn statements from all of Abdullah’s attorneys, also filed with the petition, Ada County prosecutors never told them about Littlefield testifying while suspended from duty — the information was discovered this summer by the Federal Defender Services of Idaho, a nonprofit funded by Congress, which defends people on death row.
Littlefield on Wednesday pushed back against the assertion he was suspended mid-trial and called it a “total fabrication.” He told the Idaho Press he wasn’t suspended until after Abdullah was sentenced. He was later decertified by the state, in 2006, revoking his ability to work as a police officer.
“BPD holds its officers to a very high standard,” Haley Williams, spokeswoman for the department, wrote in a statement to the Idaho Press. “Any misconduct is investigated and there are multiple options for discipline up to termination.”
The Ada County Prosecutor’s Office wasn’t able to comment on the petition, citing the fact that it was pending litigation. Klein did not return a call for comment.
Federal Defender Services began representing Abdullah in 2015, according to documents filed with the petition. By that point, the Idaho Supreme Court had already denied Abdullah’s appeal filed by the State Appellate Public Defender’s office.
In July of this year, the Federal Defender team working on Abdullah’s next appeal decided to look into records from the Idaho Police Officer Standards and Training division of the Idaho State Police, the agency that revoked Littlefield’s certification in 2006. Included in the decertification report was information — previously unknown to defense attorneys — about how Boise police leadership reprimanded and suspended Littlefield during the trial for violating orders and being “insubordinate.”
“Had the explosive POST evidence been available for cross examination, the jury would have known that Detective Littlefield repeatedly refused to follow direct orders and policy, that he was suspended from duty while he was testifying, and the entire case would have been called into question,” according to the petition. “The plethora of missing and tainted evidence would have taken on whole new light once it was known that orders, rules and policy were easily and repeatedly cast aside by lead Detective Littlefield.”
Yet when Shannon Romero of the Idaho State Appellate Public Defender’s Office deposed Littlefield in 2007, he said he wasn’t suspended until Dec. 7, 2004 — after Abdullah had been sentenced to death. Littlefield openly speculated it was because police and prosecutors didn’t want to lose the trial, according to a transcript of that deposition, filed along with the petition. He even mentioned a time during the trial when he overheard Klein asking the Boise Police Department’s internal affair department not to fire him until Abdullah had been sentenced.
“I remember one tape where I was listening to the tape recordings between the IA investigator and Erika Klein,” Littlefield told Romero, according to the transcript. “And Erika had called her, I believe right after the guilty verdict came down. And Erika called the IA investigator and said, ‘If you are going to fire him right now, don’t, because he still has to come back and testify for the sentencing phase.’”
On Wednesday, Littlefield confirmed to the Idaho Press his memory of Klein asking the police department not to fire him until after sentencing. He also named Dec. 7 as the date of his suspension.
In her declaration, Romero wrote she “was not aware that Detective Littlefield was suspended from duty during Mr. Abdullah’s trial.”
“To my knowledge, the Ada County Prosecutor’s office never shared with me or anyone at the SAPD office, or with Mr. Abdullah’s trial counsel, that Detective Littlefield had been ordered not to contact Ms. Klein, that he violated that order, or that he may have been suspended from duty during trial,” she wrote.
The petition and transcripts also contain details about how Littlefield lost pieces of evidence that could have been helpful to Abdullah’s case. In the transcript of his deposition with the State Appellate Public Defender’s Office, he recalled an October 2003 incident in which he lost a videotape from 7-Eleven in Salt Lake City. He was given a full week off his cases to look for the tape, he said during the deposition, and went through “everybody’s office” and watched numerous tapes he found. He also lost a witness statement which would have been favorable to Abdullah.
Littlefield remembered hearing about how Patrick Owen, the case’s prosecutor, was upset about the lost tape and saying “‘we are all going to get our names in the paper and our faces on TV,’ something to that effect,” Littlefield said, according to the transcript of his deposition.
“And I was like, ‘You know, I can’t pull a tape out of my ass,’” Littlefield said during the 2007 deposition, according to the transcript. “And I looked everywhere — I looked everywhere, couldn’t find it.”
Klein in her 2007 deposition said the videotape had been gone “right away.” She said it had been lost even before the case went before a grand jury, according to the transcript of her interview.
On Wednesday, Littlefield told the Idaho Press he never remembered seeing the tape, and said he’d been out of town when another detective brought it to his office.
“I never recall even seeing it,” he said.
Both Littlefield and Klein remained employed after Abdullah’s sentencing in November 2004, they said in their depositions. Littlefield resigned more than a year after his relationship with Klein came out in August 2004.
“I was initially terminated, I believe, on like the 23rd or 24th of March 2005,” he said, according to the transcript. “And then there was the union, you know, back and forth. And ultimately I resigned on the 30th of September 2005.”
In her deposition, Klein said she resigned from the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office in February 2005, but her job duties didn’t change after she disclosed the relationship, she said, and recalled she “continued to handle a full trial calendar until I went on maternity leave in December.”
She never gave statements to the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office or the Idaho State Bar about the relationship, she said. The only statement she ever gave about the affair was a verbal one, to the Boise Police Department.
During the deposition, Romero asked Klein if she “really wanted” to leave the office, or if her supervisors told her there would be “repercussions” if she didn’t resign.
Klein said she’d been on maternity leave, then had a discussion with then-Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower, then decided to leave in February 2005.
Klein said it was because she “didn’t believe I had a future there.”
While the Federal Defender Services of Idaho has represented Abdullah since 2015, his state-appointed attorney is John Kormanik, and it was Kormanik who filed the Sept. 8 petition for relief. In the petition, Kormanik asked for a new trial for Abdullah and a vacation of his sentence. He also requested to see documents and records from a collection of agencies, including the Boise Police Department, the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ada County Clerk’s Office, the POST academy, and the judge, Copsey, herself.
So far, nothing more has happened in the case and the petition has not yet been answered. There is no tentative execution date set.