Court overturns conviction in SJ nightclub murder 

A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Wednesday overturned the murder conviction of a man found guilty of fatally shooting another man in the parking lot of a San Jose nightclub in 1998.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said prosecutors in the Santa Clara County Superior Court trial of Felix Valdovinos withheld evidence that could have favored Valdovinos' defense.

The ruling requires county authorities to give Valdovinos a new trial or set him free.

Valdovinos, now 38, was convicted in December 1998 of first-degree murder in the shooting of Nelson Caballero, 22, outside the El Rancho Grande bar in San Jose early the morning of May 11, 1998.

Three witnesses said the shooter was wearing a black jacket and a light-colored cowboy hat, and identified Valdovinos as the gunman.

The appeals court said evidence withheld by prosecutors included a police photo of a second man at the scene of the shooting who was wearing a cowboy hat, and evidence that a gun and drugs were found in the apartment of a prosecution witness.

Circuit Judge Betty Fletcher wrote, "When considered collectively, the suppressed evidence undermines confidence in the verdict."

Valdovinos appealed to the federal courts through a habeas corpus petition after losing appeals in the state court system.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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