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Man Tried 4 Times in Shooting Is Freed

Carlos Burns wins his release after an appeals court rules the final trial, in which he was convicted of attempted murder, was avoidable.

June 12, 2004|Cynthia Daniels | Times Staff Writer

A judge on Friday freed a man who had been tried four times before he was convicted of attempted murder.

The first three juries could not agree whether Carlos Burns, 23, had shot a man in the leg in South Los Angeles on Dec. 1, 1999.

On the fourth try, in 2002, prosecutors won a conviction and Burns was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.

But Burns appealed the verdict. A state Court of Appeal ruled this year that an instruction the judge should have given the jury in the third trial could have resulted in a verdict, averting the need for the fourth trial.

The appellate court's decision led Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson to order the case dismissed and Burns released Friday. Burns cannot be retried.

"How wonderful that he gets a second chance at life," said Juanita McLean, Burns' attorney. "This young man was basically facing the rest of his life in prison."

The first case against Burns ended with the jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of a guilty verdict, and the second jury voted 8 to 4 for not guilty. During the third case, Judge Robert J. Perry declared a mistrial because he believed references to a potential witness by both the prosecutor and the defense attorney confused the jury.

Although prosecutors have tried cases twice and even three times, it is rare for a defendant to be tried four times. Deputy Dist. Atty. Jose Arias said he persisted with the Burns case because he believed Burns was guilty.

"I feel bad that a defendant who committed a very serious and violent offense is now out there," Arias said after the case was dismissed. "There is nothing I can do about it."

The appellate court's ruling also criticized the prosecution's case, stating, "The fact it took four juries to convict [Burns] is a reflection on the relative weakness of the evidence against him."

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Times staff writer Anna Gorman contributed to this report.

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