Family betrayal leads to injustice in small Arizona town

PRESCOTT, AZ - Accused of a serious crime, a Prescott man faces 26 years in prison.  

But with no physical evidence and no eyewitnesses, police built a case with the help of the suspect's uncle.

Did police catch a serial burglar or is an innocent man wrongfully accused?

Tim Casner's family name is memorialized on a plaque in front of the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott.

Back in 1998, Casner's criminal case was front page news in Prescott.

Casner had moved to Prescott in the late 1980's after growing up in northern California with his older brother Joe and younger brother Ron.

Casner started a house painting business. He got married and had a daughter.

His brother Joe Casner says Tim was a hard worker who was building a successful business.

"He's painted between 800 and 1000 homes," Joe Casner said.

But Tim Casner says he began losing business. He learned a local detective was telling people in town he was a burglar stealing from his customers.

Casner went to the Prescott Police Department to talk to Detective Ann Cahall, without an attorney.

Casner told ABC15 he wasn't concerned because he knew he had done nothing wrong. He believed the mistake could be straightened out quickly.

In a video obtained by the ABC15 Investigators, Tim Casner tells Detective Anna Cahall during a meeting at the police station, "I am at a loss. You think I did it. That bothers me."

Detective Cahall asked Casner, "Does it bother you because I caught you?"

Casner says he had a heated argument with Detective Cahall but he insists he still wasn't worried about the accusations--even when he was arrested and charged with seventeen counts of burglary and one count of theft.

During Casner's trial, Detective Cahall and Yavapai County Prosecutor Sheila Polk told the jury that Casner used his painting business as a cover to scout homes to burglarize.

The jury was told that Casner stole jewelry and sold it to area pawn shops, but not a single piece of stolen property was ever recovered or traced to Casner.

Prosecutor Sheila Polk told the ABC15 Investigators that while there was no physical evidence like fingerprints, she stands by the case and believes she proved to the jury Tim Casner was a serial burglar.

In a case with a man accused of stealing more than $80,000 in loot from as many as 18 different crime scenes, no search warrants were ever served on Casner and no search was ever done of his home or vehicle.

We asked Polk who is now Yavapai County Attorney, why police never searched Casner's home or vehicles.

Polk said the decision not to get a warrant to search for evidence was not unusual.

Casner's defense attorneys disagree.

They say the lack of a single search warrant in the case suggests the investigation was not thorough or complete.

And they point to one of their biggest issues with the investigation—Detective Cahall's police reports.

"She went in and made changes to police reports that were authored by other police officers," Casner's attorney Tanya Imming told ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing.

ABC15 examined hundreds of pages of documents in this case including Detective Cahall's police reports.

We found that in at least nine cases, Detective Cahall wrote Tim Casner's name as a suspect into police reports that were authored by other officers.

In several of those cases, we found Cahall had never actually interviewed the victims or visited the crime scenes before Casner was arrested.

At one of the homes, Casner is accused of a $5000.00 burglary.

But ABC15 Investigators discovered the alleged victims never provided police with a description of any of the stolen items—even after police made seven different requests over the course of a year.

Casner's lawyers say Detective Cahall used the police reports she altered to connect their client to multiple burglaries that may not have been connected. 

They point out, police officers are trained to file new, supplemental reports rather than change, alter or add to existing reports filed by others.

Detective Cahall would find another way to connect Tim Casner to the burglaries, through a member of his own family.

The key witness at Tim Casner's trial was his uncle, Gary Lewis.

Lewis was already a convicted felon, in trouble with the law again.

He was facing 15 years in prison on drug charges when he told Detective Cahall he wanted to make a deal to help himself.

Gary Lewis agreed to wear a wire and help build a case against his nephew.

In a videotape of Detective Cahall's meeting with Lewis, the orange clad inmate tells her, "If they'd be willing to cut me a break, I'll testify."

ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing located Gary Lewis at his home in California.

He asked Lewis if his nephew, Tim Casner, ever confessed to being a burglar.

Lewis said Casner never confessed the crimes to him and never gave him any indication he had committed any burglaries.

Lewis said he was desperate to make a deal to get less jail time on his drug charges so he lied to Detective Cahall and to the jury.

During

Tim Casner's 10-day trial, Lewis testified that his nephew had confessed to him.

When the trial was over, moments before the jury was to announce their verdict — Tim Casner says he panicked.

Casner said he realized he was about to be convicted of something he didn't do.

"That was probably the most scared I've ever been in my life," Casner said.

Speaking to ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing via telephone from the prison in Kingman, Casner says he was convinced he had to run, to buy time.

He fled to Las Vegas where he lived and worked for about a year.

He says he was trying to contact lawyers but was eventually arrested and brought back to Prescott to face sentencing.

Convicted of seven counts of burglary and one count of theft, Tim Casner was sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Prosecutor Sheila Polk is now the Yavapai County Attorney and she told ABC15 she is convinced Casner is guilty.

She points out that all of his appeals have been denied so far.

Tim Casner's brothers, Joe and Ron have spent the last 12 years trying to prove their brother is an innocent man.

"No chance for parole, first time offense, no record—it's a death sentence basically," said Joe Casner.

Tim Casner says he does not want his daughter to visit him in prison.

He said, "I'm ashamed, I don't want her to see me in orange."

But how does Tim Casner feel about his uncle, Gary Lewis, the man who testified against him and now says he lied to help himself?

"I'd say I forgive you," Casner said.

Hearing that, Gary Lewis said, "That's Tim, I believe it."

The ABC15 Investigators are digging  even deeper into this story. Thursday night at 10 p.m., our investigation raises more questions about the prosecution's key witness.

Was he fed information? ABC15's Dave Biscobing reveals a police interrogation video  that the jury never got to see.

Contact Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com .

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