Tuesday, November 28, 2000
Murder Charge Dropped in Rampart-Tainted Case
Courts: Defendant's rights were violated at hearing, commissioner
finds. A key witness had flip-flopped on claims that he was coerced into identifying suspect.
MATT LAIT and SCOTT GLOVER, Times Staff Writers
Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner Monday dismissed a murder charge
a case tainted by allegations of misconduct by officers in the LAPD's
Rampart Division. Commissioner Michael G. Price threw out the murder charge against Jose Luis Oliverria after determining
that the man's constitutional rights were violated at his preliminary hearing. Price cited the failure of hearing Judge Glenette
Blackwell to, among other things, allow testimony regarding the murder weapon's being discovered in the possession of another
man. The commissioner also was critical of prosecutors' failure to turn over to the defense a tape-recorded interview with
the key witness. Prosecutors said they did not know at the time that the tape existed.
before the dismissal, the prosecution's case was in trouble.
"Rudy" Carrillo, the alleged eyewitness to the killing, told The Times last spring that Los Angeles Police Department officers
coerced him into
identifying Oliverria as the killer. After being arrested on an unrelated rape charge in May, Carrillo recanted his allegation
against the officers. But he since has told a defense lawyer that the claim was true.
a result of Carrillo's flip-flops, Deputy Dist. Atty. Gretchen Ford
she would not be able to use him as a witness.
have little other evidence of the murder," Ford said in court Monday.
Ford intends to proceed on a robbery case against Oliverria, she
it is unlikely that the murder charge will be refiled.
Public Defender Alec Henderson, who represents Oliverria, praised
ruling on the murder charge.
said the remaining counts regarding the alleged theft of $1 and a
of beer are "very weak."
dismissal of the charge against Oliverria is at least the second
case dropped amid allegations of misconduct by current or former
Division officers. Prosecutors in the San Fernando Valley in August
a murder charge after their only eyewitness said he was pressured into
the defendant by an LAPD sergeant, who since has been
of crimes stemming from the Rampart corruption scandal.
case against Oliverria had problems from the start. In March, LAPD
John Curiel testified at length about his role in the investigation of
Dec. 4, 1998, slaying of 19-year-old Wilber Escobar.
then assigned to the Rampart Division's homicide squad,
that he went to the hospital on the night of the shooting, met the dead
relatives and viewed the body. "He was wrapped in a white sheet and white plastic and had a tag on his toe," Curiel testified
under questioning from the prosecution. "I saw a bullet hole . . . in his left side toward the back."
Said He Confused 2 Cases But under cross-examination by Henderson, Curiel acknowledged that he was not even working on the night
told The Times in interviews this spring that he had simply
the Escobar homicide with a similar case, though he could not remember
one. Curiel is "either the biggest idiot that ever lived, or he's a lying
Henderson charged at a court hearing last week in which he was
to have the charges against Oliverria dropped.
the detective's false testimony, Blackwell, who since has retired
the bench, allowed the case against Oliverria to go forward.
month later, The Times found and interviewed Carrillo, ostensibly the
who had been ducking prosecutors for months, told The Times
he initially told officers that he knew nothing about the unsolved
at the corner of Washington Boulevard and New England Avenue.
he said officers showed him a "six-pack" photo array that
a picture of Oliverria. He said the picture had a circle
it. The officers, he said, "were trying to give me a hint . . . saying that
him, you know, to pick him out."
who provided The Times with a sworn declaration, said the
implied that if he did not cooperate he might be prosecuted
other unsolved crimes.
of the officers involved has denied any wrongdoing in the case. An
official said two officers and Curiel remain the subjects of an