OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A former reality TV show contestant framed for a 2007 murder by two former San Francisco police officers will get $4.5 million in attorneys' fees, on top of $10 million awarded by a federal jury last month.
Attorneys for ex-VH1 reality show star Jamal Trulove and officers Maureen D’Amico and Michael Johnson filed court papers Friday asking a federal judge to sign off on the figure, but acknowledged that an appeal might alter the fee award.
Trulove was convicted in 2014 in the shooting death of Seu Kuka in San Francisco’s Sunnydale housing project. A state appeals court later reversed the conviction and ordered a retrial, finding a prosecutor contaminated the verdict during closing arguments.
A new jury acquitted Trulove in 2015 after serving six years of a 50-year-to-life sentence. Trulove sued the city and 18 police officers in 2016, but the case was whittled down over the ensuing two years by presiding U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, leaving four officers as defendants.
In April, an eight-person jury found D'Amico and Johnson guilty of conspiring to frame Trulove by fabricating and hiding evidence that would have exonerated him. The two other officers were found not guilty.
During the month-long trial, Trulove's lawyers attempted to discredit the officers' star eyewitness, whom they insisted had been manipulated into identifying Trulove as the shooter.
According to Trulove's lawyers, the shooting occurred when Trulove’s younger brother accidentally hit Kuka's car. Angry and drunk, Kuka chased the brother on foot, encountering an unnamed man during the pursuit, whom he punched and knocked to the ground. The man shot Kuka with a 9mm pistol nine times – six times in the head – killing him almost instantly.
Nick Brustin, one of the lawyers representing Trulove, said the eyewitness, Priscilla Lualemaga, told officers she saw part of the altercation from her second-floor bedroom window, but admitted during questioning at the Ingleside Police Station later that night that she hadn’t seen the actual shooting or the shooter.
She also didn’t identify Trulove from a group of mugshots D’Amico and Johnson showed her, even after Johnson allegedly and illegally pointed to a photo of Trulove and asked her, “Are you sure it wasn’t Trulove?” said Brustin, who is with the law firm Neufeld Scheck & Brustin in New York.
Lualemaga said no, but identified Trulove the next day when police showed her an allegedly tainted group of mug shots designed to elicit a positive identification of Trulove, according to Brustin.
“Ms. Lualemaga is the poster child for a problematic witness,” Brustin told the jury. “And Johnson and D’Amico knew it.”
Lualemaga told officers in 2014 that she saw the shooter chase Kuka down the hill below her window before being shot.
But according to Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist brought in to testify on Trulove's behalf, a forensic examination of Kuka’s wounds and the position of the shell casings found at the scene indicated the opposite had occurred: the shooter had chased Kuka up the hill, proving Lualemaga’s testimony was unreliable.
Melinek also said she went to the crime scene during her forensic review, and found that based on the position of a light installed above Lualemaga’s window, Lualemaga would not have been able to see the shooting.
Lualemaga's eyewitness account was “not at all consistent with the medical and forensic evidence,” Melinek told the jury.
Melinek performed autopsies for San Francisco police at the time Kuka died, but was not involved in Kuka’s autopsy.
The officers’ legal team countered that the evidence used to arrest and prosecute Trulove had been vetted by supervising detectives, multiple prosecutors and a state judge, who ruled at a preliminary hearing there was enough evidence for Trulove to stand trial.
They disputed the account of the altercation’s aftermath given by Trulove’s lawyers, insisting Lualemaga told officers she saw the altercation and knew Trulove was the shooter but simply didn't remember his name until the next day.
“Lualemaga never recanted,” San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Renee Rosenblit said. “The [appeals] court’s decision had nothing to do with Trulove’s allegations or the conduct of the officers.”
Neither Rosenblit nor Brustin could immediately be reached for comment Friday.
Before he was convicted, Trulove appeared in the VH1 reality show “I Love New York 2,” as one of 20 men vying for the affections of reality show star Tiffany “New York” Pollard.
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