The Kid Is Innocent

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

The helicopter battered the sky above. The radios crackled urgently. Other squad cars arrived. The array of police around Arthur grew tight and massive.

Things now begin to take on a certain surreal quality, fast and vivid and existing somewhere in that slim borderland between tragedy and comedy.

Witnesses from the Juice Club were brought to the scene to look at Arthur. They couldn't be sure: it's a truism that people of one race have difficulty differentiating the features of someone of another race; moreover, the suspect they were looking at was dressed completely differently from the robber. Abdel-Samad, the Juice Club cashier, came the closest: he was 80 percent sure Arthur was the robber. Hoffman was brought to the scene as well, even though she'd only gotten a quick look from 50 yards away at the man who climbed over the sound wall. Now it was dusk, and it was raining. Sitting in a police car the length of a house distant from the suspect, she was asked if Arthur was the man she'd seen. She couldn't be sure either. She asked if Arthur had been wearing a hat.

At this point, police did a very curious thing.

In Kaiwi's apartment, they'd found a Lakers cap. That cap might have contained sweat, hair fibers and skin residue upon which DNA tests could be performed to reveal the identity of the person who had worn it. But instead of sealing the hat away until those tests could be completed, police brought it to the scene of Arthur's arrest.

And then one of the officers placed the hat on Arthur's head.

Now Hoffman was convinced this was the man she had seen climbing the sound wall. Now Abdel-Samad was 100 percent sure this was the robber.

Other curious events were to follow. Found in Kaiwi's apartment were the 9 mm pistol used in the robbery, a couple of electronic devices that proved to be walkie-talkies, and a used Juice Club cup. Since all of the witnesses agreed that the robber hadn't worn gloves, it was a reasonable assumption that his fingerprints would turn up. Arthur's fingerprints were found on none of the items. Arthur's fingerprints were not found at the Juice Club or on the door of the primer-gray pickup truck in which the robber was driven away or on a CD found in the pickup. Even Sherlock, the police bloodhound, was unable to link Arthur to any of the physical evidence in the case: given Arthur's scent from his T-shirt, Sherlock was then unable to identify that scent in the primer-gray pickup.

Ultimately, none of that was to matter. The cap had been placed on Arthur's head, and he was charged with the crime.

That evening, Arthur was interrogated by two Irvine police investigators, Gary Cain and Larry Montgomery.

"Would you like to talk to us about what happened today?" Cain asked him.

"Yeah."

"Yeah? That was yes?"

"Yes."

"Okay," Cain went on. "Basically, it's our understanding that the Juice Club . . . was robbed by somebody with a gun matching your description. We had several people go over to where you were stopped in Costa Mesa, and they said you were the guy who did it. Now, we have a lot of questions. We think there might have been somebody else involved; we're not sure. We'd like to hear what your side of the story is on this. Why don't you go ahead and tell us what went down . . . and what we need to know about it."

"I don't know anything about that," Arthur told him.

"You know," Cain replied, "we want nothing from you but the truth. We don't want you to be trying to shine us on. We've got a lot of people. We got people who identified you."

"I'm telling you the truth straight-up," Arthur said.

Okay, that was the good-cop routine, and it had failed. The investigators now tried tough-cop.

"Let me tell you something," Montgomery said. "You can lie to us if you want. We'll put all that information down, and we'll go to the judge. . . ."

Arthur broke in. "I'm not lying."

"We can absolutely, positively prove that you were in the truck," Montgomery went on, bluffing with a lie he hoped would cause the suspect to cave in. "We can absolutely, positively prove that you were there and committed the robbery. . . . You won't talk to us—I understand that—and you'll lie to us, and we'll just put that information down, let the judge make the decision once they get all the information 'cause we can prove that you were there, and we've got video showing you at the gas station running into the truck. . . . We've already looked at the video, and it's you, and it's him."

Arthur continued to insist he was telling the truth. And that's the way the interrogation went: the police alternately cajoling and threatening and Arthur maintaining insistently that he was just on his way to see a friend and knew nothing about a robbery.

The veteran investigators were unable to shake the 16-year-old suspect. Arthur denied knowing Kaiwi. He insisted he had nothing to do with the robbery. He told them about some of the calls he had made before leaving home. He tried to describe for them the route he had taken to Roy's house but couldn't remember the names of streets—couldn't, for that matter, remember Roy's address. Probably he was nervous, and probably he simply didn't know Roy's address because he was used to walking to it. But it all made the police even more suspicious. Arthur also didn't tell them about dropping off his bike at Frank's house. It's hard sometimes to know how a 16-year-old's mind works. Maybe he was trying to keep Frank uninvolved. Maybe it was something as simple as the fact that in his nervousness and with his disability, he was feeling so pressed that he . . . just forgot.

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