PRESCOTT, AZ - For 12 years, Tim Casner has been locked in an Arizona prison cell.
The Prescott house painter was convicted of being a serial burglar and sentenced to 26 years in prison.
The ABC15 Investigators revealed how a lack of physical evidence in Casner’s case, and altered police reports are raising questions about whether police got the wrong man .
There were no fingerprints or eyewitnesses linking any of the burglaries to Casner.
None of the stolen property was ever recovered.
At one of the homes Casner was convicted of burglarizing, the owners reported a $5,000 burglary. But, the alleged victims were never able to provide police with a list of stolen property or a description of a single stolen item, even after police contacted them seven times during the course of a year.
Casner’s brother told ABC15, “They did everything they could to put him in jail.”
No search warrants were ever served on Casner’s home or vehicle.
And Prescott police Det. Anna Cahall, the lead detective in the case, never visited some of the crime scenes or interviewed the victims before Casner was arrested.
But Cahall did have a key witness to help build her case against Casner.
And that witness was a member of Casner’s own family -- his uncle, Gary Lewis.
Lewis was a convicted felon in custody and facing 15 years in prison on drug charges when he volunteered to testify against his nephew.
The ABC15 Investigators tracked Lewis down in California and got a startling admission from the prosecution’s key witness.
Lewis claims Cahall fed him information before he testified -- and told him what to say on the stand.
The ABC15 Investigators obtained video of Lewis being questioned by Cahall. The video was never shown at trial and has never been released to the public.
On the video, Lewis, clad in an orange jail jumpsuit tells Cahall that he is willing to testify and wants to make a deal.
But the tape shows that for more than an hour, Lewis could not give Cahall a single fact linking Casner to the burglaries.
Cahall asked Lewis, “Can you give me any names?”
But Lewis never provides any names.
Then, nearly 70 minutes into the interview, the video shows Lewis asking Cahall, “Do you think I could get some of the names?”
Cahall shows Lewis some documents and Lewis says, “Oh yeah, this looks like stuff he’d go after.”
Three times in this one interview - Detective Cahall hands Lewis police reports.
Lewis told ABC15, “I read all the stuff they had. Nobody could really prove that he (Tim Casner) did anything. I was their whole case.”
We showed the video of Cahall’s interview with Lewis to Doug Passon, a Phoenix federal defender.
He has no connection to Casner's case and has never met Lewis or Detective Cahall, but he agreed to review the video.
Passon told us, “The worst thing you do is spoon feed them information.”
He has tried hundreds of cases with police informants and he says when a witness is testifying as part of a deal for a lighter sentence, police have to be far more skeptical because the witness has a reason to lie.
Passon said what he saw on the video was improper and he believes Lewis was a tainted witness against Casner.
Passon says while there are no laws or rules that dictate exactly what detectives can say or do when they interview suspects or witnesses—prosecutors are supposed to closely scrutinize witnesses who testify in exchange for a lighter sentence.
“When you’re dealing with informants, you're playing with fire. They have the incentive to lie,” Passon said.
We also showed the video to Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.
She was the prosecutor who tried the case against Casner.
Polk told us, “None of that looks improper to me.”
She said she stands by her case and she believes Casner is a guilty man who has had all the issues his defense team raises rejected on appeal.
Passon disagrees, saying if Cahall fed Lewis information, Casner deserves to have his appeal considered by a higher court.
Passon said, “It's bad police work and that's how injustice occurs."
Casner hopes his final appeal wins him another chance to prove his innocence.
If his appeal is denied, Casner will spend the next 14 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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