COMPTON — Because a key prosecution witness refuses to take a lie detector test, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has again declined to file charges against a Compton woman arrested in August after police reported finding three marijuana plants growing in her backyard.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen R. Kay, who oversees the filing of criminal complaints, declared Tuesday that he was "convinced that the suspect, Francesca Houpe, would never be convicted of the charges." In a memorandum to Robert P. Heflin, chief of the county prosecutor's office in Compton, Kay wrote that the matter will now be dropped "in the interest of justice."
The charge against Houpe, a 34-year-old divorced mother of two with no prior criminal record, is "inescapably intertwined" with a separate felony election fraud case pending against Compton Councilman Floyd A. James, Kay wrote. Houpe was a witness against James in the election fraud case, and in turn, it was James who informed Compton police that marijuana was growing on Houpe's property.
"Mr. James apparently received this information from Victoria Adams, a lady who has a very lucrative contract with the City of Compton and knew Mr. James," Kay continued.
Led Contract Vote
On July 1--the same day he was bound over for trial after Houpe testified at a preliminary hearing--James led a unanimous council vote to renew a $220,400 federal job-training contract with Compton Business Training Center Inc. City records show that Adams works as the center's assistant director, receiving between $25,000 and $30,000 a year. She is also president of Kool & blue Pool Services, which did maintenance on Houpe's backyard swimming pool over the summer.
"Ms. Adams claims that Ms. Houpe made statements to her and one of her workmen in her pool service business that she was growing the plants," Kay wrote. "Ms. Adams did come into the district attorney's office and give a statement about her knowledge of the case and her connection with Councilman James. However, when she was requested by (Special Investigations Division) Investigator Frank Oliver to take a polygraph test, she refused.
"Ms. Adams indicated that she was a law-abiding citizen and that she felt the district attorney's office was harassing her" by asking that she submit to the polygraph test, which many legal experts consider sometimes unreliable. "She stated that she was going to write an 'obscene' newspaper article exposing the District Attorney's office for the 'harassment,' " Kay wrote.
Adams said in an interview Tuesday that she declined to take a polygraph test because she believed that investigators should accept her word. "I'm not the one on trial," she said. "They found the stuff in her backyard." Adams said she continues to tell only the truth. (Please see accompanying story, Page 5.)
In a separate interview, Kay said lie detector tests are "a common law-enforcement tool" although the results are inadmissible in court. "It's to let us know in the kind of borderline situation we have here whether the person that we're going to rely on is telling the truth."
Adams' Veracity Not Disputed
Kays said he was "certainly not saying that (Adams) is not telling the truth" just because she declined to take the test. But "this is a very difficult case and it's very difficult to determine the truth. We want to know 100% that we can rely on her."
The prosecutor also chided Compton police for their handling of the Houpe investigation.
"At the time of her arrest," Kay wrote, "Ms. Houpe gave a statement to the Compton police indicating that the areas (of her backyard) where the marijuana was growing was being rented and was under the control of Maurice Pope." (In a past interview, Houpe told The Times that she rented a garage apartment to Pope for $100 a month, but that Pope moved out shortly before police say they confiscated the plants on Aug. 14.)
"It appears that the Compton police made no attempts to locate Mr. Pope and determine whether Ms. Houpe's statement was true or false," Kay wrote. "I had several conversations with a Compton narcotics detective asking him to attempt to find Mr. Pope. I can only assume that nothing was done since this detective has not contacted me and has failed to return my last two phone calls." Kay did not identify the detective.
Compton Police Chief Ivory J. Webb could not be reached for comment.
Lastly, Kay's memo quoted Adams as claiming that Compton City Atty. Wesley Fenderson Jr. "was advising her on this case and (that) he has instructed her not to talk to anyone regarding her knowledge of marijuana cultivation in the Houpe case." On Tuesday, Kay telephoned Fenderson, who "claimed that he never told Ms. Adams not to cooperate and was definitely not advising her. I found Mr. Fenderson quite convincing and accept his version of the incident."
Fenderson declined to comment.