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Jury Frees Officer of 1 Count, Deadlocks on 4 Others

March 07, 1997|JEFF KASS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — Veteran police officer Michael Cabrera got down on his knees Thursday and gave thanks after a jury found him not guilty on one count of sexual battery against an 18-year-old woman, and deadlocked on four other criminal counts that could have sent him to prison for 17 years.

After a jury deadlocked on two counts of sexual assault, one of false imprisonment and one of assault by a police officer, Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald declared a mistrial.

Cabrera, 39, a 15-year veteran of the Santa Ana Police Department, was surrounded outside court by tearful friends and family members. He referred requests for comment to his attorney.

"They can't win this case because it's not true," said attorney Darryl Mounger, who also represented Los Angeles Police Det. Mark Fuhrman, a figure in the 1995 murder trial of football hall of famer O.J. Simpson.

A hearing on whether to retry the Cabrera case is set for April 11 before Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseno. Briseno presided over the case, but Fitzgerald declared the mistrial Thursday because Briseno was at a conference.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Dennis Bauer said a decision has not been made on whether to retry the case. And he said he was not surprised by the verdicts.

"It's very difficult to convict a police officer," Bauer said. "People do not want to believe their protectors can violate the law."

Cabrera was accused of molesting the woman, now 21, in 1995 inside an abandoned police substation.

In addition to Mounger's involvement, the Cabrera case had other similarities to the Simpson criminal case. The prosecution contended that body fluids on a rubber glove matched the DNA of the woman, proving that Cabrera had sexually assaulted her.

But Mounger attacked the DNA evidence as faulty, at one point shouting that he thought Cabrera would be asked to try on the glove, which was found at the Broadway substation.

During Simpson's trial in the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman, Simpson was asked to try on a glove allegedly worn by the murderer. That trial ended in his acquittal.

Mounger maintained that Cabrera took the woman directly home after breaking up a dispute between her and her boyfriend at a bus stop, and that the allegations were fabricated.

Juror Sharyn Buscaglio said after Thursday's proceedings that she did not need to consider DNA evidence on the glove to find Cabrera not guilty.

"There was no evidence to put him there at the scene of the crime," she said, "so how could I put the glove with him?"

Juror Roy Miller, 51, however, said that he thought Cabrera was guilty on most of the counts and that the DNA evidence was convincing, along with the timeline set out by the prosecutor.

After charges were leveled against Cabrera, the Police Department fired him in May 1995. Cabrera appealed his termination to the city personnel board, which reinstated him with back pay in December 1996.

Police Sgt. Bob Clark said Cabrera will remain on paid leave until the district attorney decides whether to retry the case.

Mounger, speaking through an assistant, said a civil case brought against Cabrera on allegations of molestation is still pending.

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