The Kid Is Innocent

The only question is whether the DA will do anything to free 17-year-old Arthur Carmona

He was detained.

He told police a story: he'd been at a gas station when a guy got into his car with a gun "and said to take me down the freeway and drop me off, and if I told anything to anybody, he'd kill me." That got some looks. The police searched his apartment and found a black backpack, a 9 mm pistol reported stolen five years earlier in Meridian, Mississippi, and a Juice Club cup. In the truck, they found a Lakers cap.

Kaiwi's apartment was about four miles from the Juice Club, just west of South Coast Plaza and north of the Y formed by the San Diego and 73 freeways. On the other side of the 73 freeway, in her home on Cheyenne Street in a trim little Costa Mesa neighborhood, Christine Hoffman was lying on the sofa, watching TV. The way she was lying, she could look out through the French doors across her yard. At the back of the yard, there was a rising slope covered with grass and trees. At the top of the slope stood the sound wall separating the neighborhood from the 73 freeway. Around the time police were heading toward Kaiwi's apartment, Hoffman saw a young male Hispanic appear at the top of the sound wall and drop down to the slope at the back of her yard. He was wearing a dark cap and a long-sleeved white shirt with a dark-colored T-shirt over that. He started running south, skirting the other back yards.

Hoffman called the police.

It was after he'd crossed Fairview and was on his way to Roy's house that Arthur first saw the police. Hoffman's house was only a few blocks away, so police were on patrol looking for the young Hispanic male she had seen climb over the sound wall. Arthur didn't know this, of course, but the police presence did make him nervous. He had already gotten one ticket for riding his bike without wearing a helmet, and he didn't want another one. His friend Frank Roldan lived nearby on Mendoza Drive, and he headed there. When he knocked on the door, Frank was vacuuming the carpet. Arthur explained the situation and asked if he could leave his bike. Frank said sure. Arthur made a quick phone call to Paul Millan, then left on foot. (For the next couple of months, unremarked upon by either police or defense investigators, the bike would remain there. Then, when Frank's family moved, it would be given to another friend and then would become lost for good.)

Arthur left Frank's house and walked north into the neighborhood where Roy Bueno lived. It was a little after 4 p.m.

Costa Mesa police officer Dennis Sanders was one of the officers patrolling the neighborhood south of the 405 and 73 interchange. Aware of the robbery at the Juice Club, aware as well that Hoffman had seen someone climbing over the sound wall behind her house, just a few blocks away, Sanders was looking for a suspect. The police helicopter overhead directed him toward one, a young man walking along the sidewalk near the intersection of Pierce Avenue and Concord Street.

Sanders pulled up beside him in his squad car.

He told him to stop.

At some point, he pulled out his gun.

He asked him his name.

"Arthur Carmona," the young man said.

A year and a half later, scores of pages of police reports later, several volumes of trial transcripts later, it remains unclear why the police zeroed in on Arthur, other than the fact that he happened to be walking in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time. The description of the Juice Club robber broadcast over police radios was this: "young Hispanic male, wearing a baseball hat and a dark jacket and carrying a backpack." Later, after Hoffman called to report the man climbing over the sound wall, the police may have amended this description to include the possibility that the suspect might be wearing a dark T-shirt. (No official record of this has yet surfaced, however.) Regardless, the fact is that when he was stopped, Arthur was not wearing a hat, he was not wearing a dark jacket, and he was not carrying a backpack. He did have on a dark T-shirt. "Young Hispanic male wearing a dark T-shirt." That description fit a number of people in the area at that time, as police later admitted. For that matter, it probably fit hundreds if not thousands of people within, say, a radius of a couple of miles.

Police figured that the robber had just run from Kaiwi's apartment, dashed across the 73 freeway, climbed the sound wall behind Hoffman's house—a distance of about a mile. But Arthur was not out of breath.

Police figured that the robber had dropped from the sound wall and then made his way south through the dirt and brush. But neither Arthur's clothes nor his shoes were dirty.

Still, he was stopped. Sanders questioned him. What are you doing? Where are you going? Where have you been? Unaware of Arthur's disability, Sanders found his answers vague and hesitant and, thus, suspicious.

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