For the second time in recent months, prosecutors dropped charges against a high-profile murder suspect because of disputed ballistics work by a Los Angeles Police Department firearms examiner.
Prosecutors on Wednesday dropped their case against Alex Marti, 27, who had been charged in the murder of a suspected drug dealer whose body was found in Bel-Air two years ago. Marti is still in jail in connection with the apparently unrelated "Cotton Club" case, facing trial along with two others in the 1983 execution of Broadway promoter Roy Radin.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Sally Thomas said she sought the dismissal after Sheriff's Department forensic experts disagreed with LAPD examiner Jimmy L. Trahin, who said a .45-caliber revolver sold by Marti was the gun that killed Rene Vega two years ago.
According to Thomas, she and fellow prosecutor David Conn had the weapon retested in the Vega case after reading about Rickey Ross, a veteran Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy charged in February with murdering three prostitutes in South-Central Los Angeles.
The LAPD arrested Ross after Trahin identified the deputy's semiautomatic pistol as the murder weapon. When outside experts were called in, however, they found that Trahin had incorrectly analyzed the evidence and that his tests were inconclusive. Charges against Ross were dropped in May.
"I think we all take this very, very seriously, and the LAPD takes it very, very seriously, and the problem is going to be rectified," Thomas told The Times.
Cmdr. William Booth said that the LAPD concurs with the district attorney's decision to drop the case against Marti because of a lack of evidence.
As for Trahin's status, Booth said the detective still is assigned to the firearms section, but he has not conducted any ballistic tests since the Ross case. Meanwhile, Booth said, the LAPD has ordered an audit "to see if there is any kind of problem.,"
In the Vega case, Marti, a former security guard for Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, was connected to the slaying by a witness who told police that Marti had been asked to supply the gun used to kill the victim.
Marti's lawyer, Richard S. Hirsch, said Wednesday the primary evidence against his client had been the revolver.