A Los Angeles Superior Court judge could decide today whether to throw out the convictions of three Los Angeles police officers found guilty in November of framing gang members.
Judge Jacqueline Connor has scheduled an 8:30 a.m. hearing to determine if the guilty verdicts against Sgts. Edward Ortiz and Brian Liddy and Officer Michael Buchanan should be overturned because of alleged jury misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct and a computer mistake printed on a police report.
But the district attorney's office says in a motion filed Wednesday that throwing out the Nov. 15 verdicts would be wrong.
Deputy Dist. Attys. Laura Laesecke and Brentford Ferreira also argue that the affidavits of five jurors who say they were confused by the computer error are inadmissible.
"Judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike routinely tell juries that our jury trial system, though flawed, is the best system of justice in the world," prosecutors say in a court filing. "Well, now we must allow it to work. To overturn a verdict because one or more parties do not agree with it would undermine the reasons for having a jury trial at all."
The three officers were convicted of conspiracy to frame gang members for falsely claiming that they were struck by a pickup truck during a 1996 gang sweep. Their convictions were the first in an ongoing investigation of allegations of widespread corruption in the LAPD's Rampart Division.
But the verdicts quickly came under attack.
First, the defense alleged that the jury foreman told another juror on the first day of trial that the defendants were guilty. The foreman has denied making such a remark.
The defense also alleged in a court filing that the defendants didn't get a fair trial. Defense attorneys said they were not told until late in their preparation for trial that former Officer Rafael Perez, the prosecution's informant in the corruption probe, told people in jail that he would "make things up" to get revenge against officers he didn't like.
But it is the computer error that the judge has indicated is causing her the greatest concern.
In reaching its verdict, the jury relied on a police report that incorrectly stated the officers claimed they suffered great bodily injury when struck by the truck.
The report should have said that the officers said the accident had the likelihood to cause them great bodily injury.
The distinction seems minor but the defense contends it could have, at the very least, meant the difference between a hung jury and a conviction. Five jurors have signed affidavits that seem to support the defense's argument.
The jurors say in affidavits that they could not agree on the heart of the prosecution's case--that the officers made up the entire story about being hit by a pickup.
Instead, the jurors say they convicted the officers after agreeing that they did not suffer great bodily injury. Therefore, the jurors reasoned, the officers exaggerated their injuries and were guilty of framing gang members.
But in its motion, prosecutors say the jurors' affidavits are not admissible under court evidentiary rules that protect the deliberative process from second-guessing.
"Each of the [affidavits] is replete with inadmissible statements of mental process," the prosecution motion said.
"Phrases such as 'I believe,' 'some jurors felt,' 'we discussed' . . . are all unquestionably statements describing how the jury reaches its verdict."
Even if the affidavits were admissible, the prosecutors argue, it was the defense's responsibility to correct the error during trial. Ortiz was asked on the witness stand whether he approved a "great bodily injury" charge and he said yes.