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Skid Row Stabber conviction overturned by appeals court

November 30, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Skidrowstabber A federal appeals court Tuesday ordered a new trial for Bobby Joe Maxwell, the alleged Skid Row Stabber convicted of murdering homeless people, calling the government's chief witness in the 1984 trial an "infamous" jailhouse informant and a habitual liar.

Maxwell was convicted of two of 10 murders attributed to the Skid Row Stabber in 1978 and 1979, largely on the testimony of Sidney Storch, one of a notorious cadre of snitches used by Los Angeles authorities in dozens of murder cases in the 1970s and '80s.

Storch told Maxwell's trial court the defendant had confessed to the killings when they shared a cell at Los Angeles County Jail.

Storch testified for the prosecution in at least half a dozen criminal trials and received reduced sentences and other considerations for helping secure convictions. He was said by other jailhouse snitches to have taught them the art of "booking" fellow inmates for their own advantage.

"Storch perjured himself multiple times at Maxwell's trial and employed a signature method to 'book' fellow inmates," a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling. "Storch also had a chronic pattern of dishonesty that both predated and followed Maxwell's trial."

The appeals panel said it was unreasonable for the trial court to believe Storch testified truthfully, given his reputation and involvement in numerous cases in which his testimony proved to be untrue.

A new trial is in order, the judges said, because Storch was the "make-or-break witness," meaning his testimony was the centerpiece of the government's case and nearly all other evidence against Maxwell was circumstantial.

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--Carol J. Williams

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