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Defense Takes Aim at Police in Cosby Trial

July 02, 1998|STEVE BERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lawyers defending Mikail Markhasev, the young man accused of killing the son of Bill Cosby in a failed holdup, opened their case Wednesday by again raising the specter of police misconduct and casting doubt about whether a robbery was ever attempted.

Deputy Alternate Public Defender Henry J. Hall strongly implied that police deliberately failed to use another suspect in a lineup that was shown to a witness.

Hall has argued that the other suspect, Eli Zakaria, 24, was with the 19-year-old Markhasev on Jan. 16, 1997, when Ennis Cosby was killed and, in many ways, more closely fit the early description of the killer.

During three hours of questioning of former lead Det. Adalberto Luper, the defense showed that the age, height, weight and cleanshaven appearance described by witness Stephanie Crane fit Zakaria more than Markhasev.

Yet, when police arranged a live lineup for Crane, they included Markhasev, but not Zakaria, Luper said.

Hall also suggested that Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Ingalls misled Crane last week in court when she showed Crane a six-person photo-lineup that included an out-of-date photo of Zakaria. Crane was unable to identify Zakaria as the killer.

In the photo Crane saw, Zakaria was wearing a goatee even though he was cleanshaven on the night of the murder. Police had another photo of Zakaria that more closely resembled his cleanshaven appearance on the night of the killing, but never showed that to Crane.

But Ingalls struck back, getting Luper to say that all evidence and interviews at the time pointed to Markhasev, and that there was no substantial reason to believe that Zakaria was a suspect. By then, another witness had already told them he heard Markhasev admit to the killing, Luper said.

He also said that the most distinctive features of the description provided by Crane--the "pointy" face and nose--fit Markhasev.

Later, at a news conference, Luper said Hall's defense was "just a smoke screen to take the heat off his client." He said, "There is no doubt in my mind that it was Markhasev."

Crane has not identified either Markhasev or Zakaria as the killer.

Her description was the basis for a composite drawing, which some say fits Zakaria more than it does Markhasev.

During one photo lineup that did not include Markhasev, Crane picked someone who has never been identified as the person who looks most like the killer.

Cosby, 27, was killed while he was changing a tire on Skirball Center Drive off the San Diego Freeway. He was en route to visit Crane, who lived in Sherman Oaks just a few miles from where his car blew a tire. Crane drove out to the scene to help him fix the flat.

As Cosby worked on the tire, Markhasev, Zakaria and Sara Ann Peters stopped at a nearby park-and-ride to make a phone call. While Zakaria used the phone, Markhasev went to rob Cosby, but ended up killing him, the prosecution argues. Crane got a brief glimpse of the killer before she sped away.

Wednesday's testimony was the second time Hall has raised the specter of police misconduct.

Last week, he charged that police criminalists mishandled hairs plucked from a knit cap that was wrapped around the murder weapon. He opened a mystery about a missing hair and raised questions about the origin of a single strand that was discovered late in the investigation and found to be suitable for DNA analysis.

That analysis showed that the DNA from the hair matched Markhasev's DNA, a major finding that ties him to the slaying. Until then, a criminalist had determined that there were no hairs suitable for DNA analysis.

The defense also began chipping away at the prosecution's attempt to show that Markhasev was trying to rob Cosby by noting that nothing of value was taken from him.

Det. Mike Berchem, under Hall's questioning, acknowledged that Cosby's wallet contained $741.45, and that he was wearing a Rolex watch and a bracelet, not to mention that his car was a convertible Mercedes-Benz.

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