A Hartford man spending 25-38 years in prison will get a new trial. 

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week to vacate Jose L. Garcia-Mandujano’s convictions and sentences and send the case back to Van Buren Circuit Court.

After a three-day jury trial in September 2014 Garcia-Mandujano was found guilty on two counts of criminal sexual conduct against a girl between fourth and seventh grades. She was 13 and in eighth grade when she told a friend about the conduct, who then told a school counselor, who involved Child Protective Services and police. 

Later, the prosecution dismissed one of the counts. In October 2014, Judge Kathleen Brickley sentenced Garcia-Mandujano to 25-38 years in prison.

His appeal attorney, John Burhans, said law enforcement will bring Garcia-Mandujano back to Van Buren County where he will have a bond hearing in Van Buren Circuit Court. A judge will set a new bond, most likely similar to the first one, and a new schedule for pre-trial hearings and a trial, he said. 

Garcia-Mandujano, now 24, started his appeal process in 2015 when he requested a Ginther Hearing, a hearing on a motion for a new trial claiming the defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel.

The Van Buren County court denied Garcia-Mandujano’s motion for a new trial in July 2015 after hearing witness testimony, including that of his lawyer Larry Margolis.

He appealed this decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which also denied his request for a new trial. He further appealed the appeals court decision to the Michigan Supreme Court still on the grounds that Margolis was ineffective.

He argued that his attorney did not question a physician’s assistant properly during his trial, though Margolis was provided a medical report prepared by her, and she was listed as a witness for the prosecution before the trial. 

According to the decision from the Supreme Court this week, the physician assistant’s report, while repeating the claims of the victim, was generally favorable to the defense in that it did not document any tearing, bruising, bleeding, lacerations, DNA evidence, or evidence of any sexually transmitted disease found on the cousin. 

“Defense counsel did not attempt to interview this critical witness before trial and did not reasonably prepare to cross-examine the trial testimony of the physician assistant by relying on the report to ask targeted questions to elicit the exculpatory evidence,” the Supreme Court wrote.

The court further wrote that the defense attorney asked the physician assistant during cross-examination whether there was “no medical evidence” to support the victim’s claim of assault. She responded that an adult speculum had easily been used to examine the victim, but that was not in the written report.

Margolis testified during the Ginther hearing that he thought he had elicited evidence from the physician assistant that she had not mentioned the speculum in her report.

“But review of the record finds no such impeachment,” the Supreme Court wrote. “Further, instead of using the report to impeach the witness on the failure to document the adult speculum in the report, defense counsel aggravated this inadequacy when, in his own words, he ‘tried to be the expert’ on female anatomy. That was not a reasonable trial strategy.”

They wrote that any attorney acting reasonably would have found this discrepancy in the report and then, if necessary, used the report to discredit the physician assistant by showing the jury her failure to mention the speculum in her report of the victim’s exam.

The supreme court’s decision said that Margolis’ conduct was not only deficient, it also prejudiced Garcia-Mandujano.

“This case was solely a credibility contest between defendant and the complainant, and the physician assistant’s testimony that she used an adult speculum to examine the 12-year-old complainant was the only medical evidence admitted at trial. Because defense counsel not only allowed this testimony to stand unchecked but also highlighted the testimony, there exists a reasonable probability of a different result,” the Supreme Court wrote. 

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman