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Jail Informant Owns Up to Perjury in a Dozen Cases

January 04, 1990|TED ROHRLICH | TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

The jailhouse informant who started a scandal more than a year ago by demonstrating the ease with which he could fake an inmate's confession now says he committed perjury in a dozen cases, most involving major felonies.

The informant, Leslie Vernon White, laid out details of his perjuries for the first time in an interview with The Times.

"I'm just basically going to tell the truth and if the D.A. wants to bury me now for telling the truth after rewarding me for all my lies for so many years, so be it," White said in the interview, which took place recently in a visiting room at the Los Angeles Hall of Justice jail.

White's testimony appears to have been crucial to convictions in, at most, three of the cases, according to a brief examination of them by The Times.

However, the secondary nature of his testimony in the other cases raises questions about why some prosecutors felt it was necessary to use him--and ultimately to give him leniency for his own crimes in return for his cooperation.

The case review also raises questions about whether some prosecutors did a proper job of corroborating White's stories before they put him on the witness stand.

White, a 32-year-old convicted robber, kidnaper and drug abuser, is currently serving a nearly six-year sentence for purse snatching and failure to appear in court. The extraordinarily long sentence for those crimes was imposed after he stopped cooperating with law enforcement. He is being housed at the Hall of Justice jail rather than in a state prison for the convenience of the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, which is using him as a witness in its investigation of possible misuse of jailhouse informants by law enforcement officials.

In the interview, White mentioned two reasons for coming forward now, after having repeatedly refused for more than a year to identify the cases in which he perjured himself.

Although he said he is concerned that the Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County district attorneys may file perjury charges against him, White said, "I don't think the grand jury investigation can be completely done unless I cooperate all the way."

He also said he was tired of having to dance around the question of which cases he lied in while testifying as an expert witness on informants--a pursuit he regards as his "business."

Testifies as Expert

Since the scandal broke, White has been hired by defense attorneys and paid an average of $500 in about half a dozen cases around the state to testify as an expert on the ways informants make up confessions.

But White said he has been repeatedly "boxed in" by prosecutors on cross-examination when "they say, 'How can you now tell us as an expert that all informants lie when you told us that you told the truth in (your) cases?' "

In his appearances as an expert, White has gradually admitted committing perjury, but has refused to provide details.

White's admissions to The Times follow admissions by another longtime Los Angeles informant, Stephen Jesse Cisneros, who told the newspaper recently that he committed perjury by faking confessions in five murder cases.

White, who said he began faking confessions in 1977, broke the informant scandal in late 1988 when he demonstrated for his jailers an elaborate ruse he said he had seen other informants use to fake convincing confessions of inmates they had never met.

In his demonstration, White used a telephone in the jail and posed as a policeman to gather inside information about a murder from law enforcement agencies, then arranged a phony record to show that he had briefly shared a cell with the inmate whose confession he claimed to have heard.

The demonstration triggered the ongoing grand jury probe, led to a vast reduction in the use of informants by county prosecutors and prompted a new state law requiring that jurors be told to view informants' testimony with suspicion.

In addition, defense lawyers have challenged about a dozen Los Angeles County convictions obtained with informant testimony. One of these convictions, for murder, has been overturned.

In the interview, White related that he usually relied on much simpler techniques than the telephone ruse to frame inmates. He said often he merely asked a cellmate what he was charged with. When the cellmate responded with a protestation of innocence and an account of what the police said happened, White said he simply turned the information around and claimed that the cellmate had confessed.

The three cases in which White's testimony may have been crucial involved faked confessions to a burglary, an attempted murder and a murder.

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