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Lawyer Says Cooley Is No More Helpful Than Garcetti on Rampart

Courts: Public defender says material that might be exculpatory is not being turned over. Prosecutors deny the allegations.

March 24, 2001|TWILA DECKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles alternate public defender complained to a Superior Court judge Friday that Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley is no more forthcoming than his predecessor on discovery issues involving LAPD officers.

If anything, attorney Gary S. Wigodsky said at a hearing Friday, the district attorney's office has gotten worse.

Wigodsky said that in three cases the office did not turn over discovery material to the defense, including statements made by informant Rafael Perez, a former LAPD officer.

"The D.A.'s office makes pronouncements saying they are going to change," Wigodsky told Judge Larry Paul Fidler. ". . . I am here to tell you that nothing has changed.

"Every time we come up with an argument about why something should be turned over, they come up with a new excuse. It's been one long shell game," Wigodsky said.

Cooley's office denies that it is being unfair.

Cooley, who criticized former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti's handling of the Rampart police corruption scandal, recently appointed a panel to establish a new policy to ensure that defendants are given so-called Brady material--anything that might help the defense, including doubts about the credibility of an investigating officer--in a timely and lawful manner.

The hearing Friday was scheduled for cases identified during the Rampart investigation as potentially problematic. Arguments on one of the cases were postponed until April 3.

The first case heard Friday involved Antonio Granillo, one of four gang members convicted of kidnapping a woman with the intention of raping her.

Wigodsky is seeking an evidentiary hearing in the hopes of ultimately winning his client a new trial, but the district attorney's office opposes the hearing and a new trial.

Wigodsky argued Friday that Granillo is entitled at the least to an evidentiary hearing because of statements made by Perez, who complained of widespread corruption in the Rampart Division, shortly after his August 1998 arrest on charges that he stole cocaine from the police evidence room.

Perez has said former Officer Brian Hewitt, who has left the department, beat Granillo while he was handcuffed.

In an effort to cover up the beating, Perez said, he and another officer convinced witnesses in the case to change their stories and say the defendant had hurt himself during the kidnapping. Perez, however, has said that they lied only about the beating and that the charges of which Granillo was convicted were true.

Wigodsky said the prosecution withheld the statement for several months because it had not been verified. He said it is ludicrous for prosecutors to claim that a confession by an officer should be verified.

"Perez wasn't accusing anyone other than himself," Wigodsky said. "He was confessing."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Brentford Ferreira argued that Granillo doesn't deserve a new trial because Wigodsky has not presented any evidence to show that his client is not guilty of the kidnapping.

Fidler did not make a final ruling. Instead, the judge gave Wigodsky more time to file a supplemental motion.

By law, Fidler said, he could grant the evidentiary hearing only if Wigodsky could show that he had not been given key evidence that could prove his client's innocence.

"It is not that what you are alleging isn't reprehensible. It is," Fidler said. "The question is whether it rises to a level for me to grant an evidentiary hearing."

Fidler also heard testimony in a case involving William Stearns, who was convicted of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to sell. The hearing is expected to continue next week.

Wigodsky argued that the district attorney's office withheld key evidence that could have been used to impeach Officer Dennis O'Sullivan's testimony.

Wigodsky called two deputy district attorneys to the stand to explain why statements Perez made about O'Sullivan were not released to the defense.

Perez said O'Sullivan was "in the loop" and had come to him for cocaine in 1997. But the Perez accusation was never given to the defense, Wigodsky said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Rosenthal said he doesn't believe that the statement about O'Sullivan, who is still an LAPD officer, should have been disclosed to the defense because it was never verified and because Perez is not reliable.

"I learned early on that Perez is an extremely personable man who could lie to your face," Rosenthal said. "I would not believe anything Mr. Rafael Perez said unless I corroborated it."

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