High-level O.C. prosecutor fired from D.A.’s office on allegations of withholding evidence

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SANTA ANA, Calif. (KNX) — A high-level prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office was fired Wednesday after an internal investigation was conducted into allegations he withheld evidence in a murder case.

Ebrahim Baytieh was accused of withholding evidence that forced D.A. Todd Spitzer in August to request a new trial for a man convicted in 2010 of brutal murder. Paul Gentile Smith was serving a life term in prison without the possibility of parole for his alleged 1988 mutilation, slaying, and burning of Robert Haugen.

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O.C. sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors allegedly violated Smith’s constitutional rights by putting him in a jail cell where he was questioned by three jailhouse informants. Authorities only disclosed the existence of one informant in Smith’s cell.

Baytieh was the prosecutor assigned to Smith’s 2010 case.

Authorities also said prosecutors failed to provide Smith’s defense a recording of one of the jailhouse informants used in the investigation. The recording was not turned over until a decade after Smith’s trial, when Baytieh said he first found out about it.

“I immediately hired an independent law firm to investigate whether there was a failure by the prosecutor to properly turn over discovery and whether the prosecutor was truthful in all subsequent and related inquiries by the United States Department of Justice,” Spitzer said in a statement.

The report, filed Tuesday, resulted in Baytieh’s termination.

“I made it unequivocally clear when I ran for Orange County District Attorney that I would not tolerate the ‘win at all costs’ mentality of the prior administration,” Spitzer said. “My prosecutors will not violate the Constitution and the rights of defendants in order to get convictions.”

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, Smith’s attorney, alleged that Baytieh’s conduct may have infected other cases he handled.

“In the near future we will be detailing how not only was critical evidence concealed from Mr. Smith for more than a decade but how members of the prosecution team conspired to conceal this evidence from dozens of other defendants who were entitled to learn about it — all so they could ensure that our client die in prison without ever knowing what happened,” Sanders said.

Baytieh is currently running for O.C. Superior Court judge. It was unclear as of Thursday whether the campaign would continue.

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