The Kid Is Innocent

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

To Marshall, the whole case seemed incredibly shaky: a 33-year-old Hawaiian man partnering up with a 16-year-old Latino to pull an armed robbery? The age difference alone just didn't make any sense; moreover, Marshall knew from experience that different ethnic groups tended to stick with their own when it comes to crime.

It began to seem to Marshall that Arthur was being railroaded. But he comforted himself with the thought that because the police case was so weak it would probably never come to trial.

The police continued a desultory investigation. Investigator Cain contacted Hildabrand and Schwartz, the two customers in the Juice Club, and showed them photos of possible robbery suspects. Neither could identify Arthur as the gunman. Cain and his partner, Montgomery, checked out the route from Kaiwi's apartment, across the 73 freeway to Hoffman's sound wall, and from there to Pierce, where Arthur had been detained. Since Arthur had been dressed differently from the way witnesses described the robber, they looked for discarded clothing. They found none. Cain also spent some time trying to close one of the big gaps in the facts of the case: How had 33-year-old Kaiwi and 16-year-old Arthur come to know each other in the first place? When he was first questioned, Kaiwi had offered the wild tale about being carjacked, but since Kaiwi had ended up with the gun, the backpack and the Lakers cap, this was clearly preposterous. Put together in a police vehicle after their arrest, the two hadn't spoken to each other, had barely acknowledged the other's presence. This was highly unusual. How had the two come to know each other? Hoping for some answers, Cain tried to track down Kaiwi's ex-girlfriend. But this came to nothing, and for a prosaic enough reason: as he wrote in his report, Cain simply couldn't recall her name.

And that's the way it went, the officers filing report after report. They make curious reading. Reading these reports, you get the feeling that you are looking at the case in a mirror wavering with imperfections that highlight with crystal clarity here, obscure with a maddening optic fog there. One report may omit the name of a key contact—Kaiwi's girlfriend, for instance—or fail to record the time when some key event occurred. And the next report you pick up will zero in with a crystal focus on some bit of information that means nothing.

The CD case in the gray pickup, the CD case upon which Arthur's prints were not found? It was Ice Cube's Lethal Injection:Bootleg and B-sides.

Ruiz was convinced that Arthur could not have committed the robbery. Out of pride or nervousness or simple excitement, a 16-year-old would have let some sign of what he'd done slip to friends. Especially if what he'd done involved a 33-year-old man and a gun. But none of Arthur's friends knew anything. Ruiz's own children, with whom Arthur was very close, knew nothing. Mom, they told her, Art just hung out with kids.

Like Marshall, she was sure the case would never come to trial.

But it did come to trial. Because those in the police and the district attorney's office have refused to talk, the process by which this occurred remains obscure. The police had several armed robberies on their books. Perhaps they saw a way to clear those cases and reassure the business community. The official in the district attorney's office responsible for determining which cases to proceed on was new to the job. Perhaps he was simply out to make his mark.

The trial itself, which took place before Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey Oct. 13-21, 1998, was a curious affair. Arthur was charged with the Juice Club robbery and a similar robbery late at night a couple of days earlier at a Costa Mesa Denny's. Since there was absolutely no physical evidence connecting Arthur with either crime, the state's case depended on the eyewitness identifications. But as that case unfolded, as presented by deputy district attorney Jana Hoffman (no relation to witness Christine Hoffman), the testimony showed those eyewitness identifications to be less than solid. For instance, Joseph Kim, one of the employees at the Juice Bar, testified he just wasn't sure the robber was Arthur and only identified him after police put the infamous Lakers cap on his head. Samuel Ku, another Juice Club employee, couldn't identify Arthur in court. Cashion, the man who had jotted down the license-plate number of the getaway truck, testified that "basically, all I could give the police officers was that his body shape was the right size." Christine Hoffman, who saw a man climbing over her sound wall, testified that it was only the Lakers cap that "concreted in my mind that it was him." George Algie, a witness at the Denny's robbery, testified that when he was shown a photo lineup after the robbery, the picture of Arthur was merely the one "closest" to that of the robber. Casey Becerra, another witness at the Denny's robbery, testified that she made her identification of Arthur based on his eyes. There was confusion on other points as well. Both Kim and Algie testified that the robber held the gun in his right hand. Arthur is left-handed.

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