Lawyers Battle Over Evidence During Failed Prelim for Murder Case

A preliminary hearing for a murder defendant held in jail since October was rescheduled because the defense claims the prosecutor failed to hand over evidence in time.

Nathan Hunter is accused of shooting 44-year-old Ronald McKnight in the DC International Hostel on the 1600 block of 7th Street, NW, on April 18, 2021. Hunter, 40, was arrested that same day and charged with second-degree murder while armed. Evidence in this case was supposed to be discussed during a Feb. 3 preliminary hearing, which instead became an in-depth discussion over why the prosecutor waited as long as he did to hand over Jencks material.

Defense attorney Frances D’Antuono said she received more than 100 pages of Jencks material, evidence that is favorable to the prosecutor’s case, the night before the hearing. This is despite a standing order that exhibits and Jencks material be exchanged by parties at a minimum of three business days before a preliminary hearing for cases in which defendants are detained.

Hunter’s other attorney, Thomas Healy, outlined this when he filed a motion for a postponement just before 8:00 a.m. on the day of the proceedings. The preliminary hearing was originally scheduled to take place in October but was rescheduled twice due to the defendant being quarantined at the DC Jail.

“There’s no excuse for this being disseminated the night before, no good excuse,” D’Antuono said when parties met in court.

The prosecutor responded that he was “late by the standing order but early by the statutory deadline.”

However, parties could not come to an agreement on how valuable the evidence actually was.

“The majority of the files are arrest photos, even though there are several hundred files there,” the prosecutor said. “I do not believe they are as substantial as the motion makes it out to be.” He said he did file some information a month prior, just not all of it.

The prosecutor went on to bring up a past issue of D’Antouno not providing evidence, but she had an explanation. The defense had told the prosecutor they were going to hand it over but since there was so much, it created technical issues. They were able to give it over just a few days later without issue.

“The government’s mischaracterizing the dissemination of our evidence,” D’Antouno said.

The prosecutor offered a compromise- if the judge was available, they could give the defense some time to go over the information then resume the hearing in the afternoon with the detective testifying that day and another hearing for cross-examination. The defense could review the evidence in the time in between. 

D’Antuono was not happy with this idea. She requested another hearing date entirely, refuting the prosecutor’s idea. 

“I am very prejudiced by this,” she said. “We worked very, very, very hard for Mr. Hunter to understand what testimony is going to be heard.” She said the evidence included information about witnesses talking about Hunter, and he needs to be prepared for that. 

“Honestly, I’m not sure how that would prejudice you,” said DC Superior Court Judge Robert Okun. “You would only be making objections that are separate from you having these materials and really you need to review these materials before questioning the witness.” 

But this is not the first time defense counsel has complained of issues obtaining evidence from the prosecution. Healy filed a motion to compel in January requesting transcripts of certain grand jury testimony and supporting documents related to a fingerprint exam report.

Judge Okun decided to reschedule the preliminary hearing for Feb. 11. The proceedings will determine if Hunter’s case has enough evidence to go to trial.