The Kid Is Innocent

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

Arthur's court-appointed attorney was Kenneth Reed, an experienced criminal lawyer who had tried more than 80 jury cases. During his cross examinations, he was able to show how less-than-solid the eyewitness testimony was—how so much of it depended upon the placing of the Lakers cap on Arthur's head. He was able to prod police officers into a couple of ludicrous gaffes: it was only after repeated questioning, for instance, that Sanders finally decided he remembered drawing his gun when he detained Arthur on Pierce Avenue.

But when it came time for Reed to put on a case in defense of Arthur, there were some glaring omissions. As part of his plea bargain, Kaiwi had signed a perfunctory statement of a couple of sentences naming Arthur as the robber. Kaiwi got two years and was sent to prison. There, he was visited by Reed's investigator, George Rowell. According to Rowell's report, Kaiwi "started the interview by saying he did not know Arthur Carmona prior to his arrest. Kaiwi said the first time he saw [Arthur] was when he was driven by to attempt to ID [Arthur] in the field. The only other time Kaiwi said he saw [Arthur] was when they were both placed in the back seat of a police unit. Kaiwi said he wanted me to tell [Arthur] and his family that 'he didn't have anything to do with it.' And 'I know he wasn't involved in it.'"

Rowell also visited Kaiwi's mother, Julei Kaiwi, with whom he'd been living at the time of the robbery. "I showed Julei a picture of Arthur," Rowell reported, "and asked her if she had ever seen him at her residence. Julei looked at the picture and said, 'He doesn't look familiar.' Julei said she did not recognize the name 'Arthur Carmona.'"

Reed, however, did not compel Kaiwi to testify. Nor did he call to the stand any of the people who would have testified that they saw Arthur or spoke with him on the phone the afternoon of the Juice Club robbery. He did not call to the stand any character witnesses—Arthur's pastor or his teachers, for instance. He did not call any unbiased experts to discuss the difficulties of eyewitness identifications across ethnic lines. Even though there was a sense among observers that some jurors were waiting for something positive from the defense to solidify their doubts about the prosecution case, Reed did not put his own client on the stand. (He had visited Arthur only once in jail before the trial to hear his story, anyway.) In fact, the only defense witnesses were Ronnie Carmona and Arthur's sister, Veronica.

Perhaps Reed's most glaring omission was the fact that he made no attempt to exclude the eyewitness identifications of Arthur based on the infamous Lakers cap incident.

On Oct. 21, 1998, Reed stood before the jury and offered his summation. He began passionately. "Ladies and gentlemen, there is a constant in the criminal law," he said.
"It's the same from Bangor, Maine, down to the Florida Keys. No different from Alaska than San Ysidro at the foot of the state. . . . That constant is that no state, no federal prosecutor . . . may take the life, liberty of the individual of a person without first proving that that person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." But the summation quickly became unfocussed and rambling, its clarity not helped by the fact that the judge interrupted it for a short recess—because one of the deputy marshals responsible for Arthur was nodding off. Reed concluded on a note that was almost desperate. "I've been up here today over 50 minutes but been up here for the better part of an hour, and my voice is getting dry, and I am tired, and I am missing things," he said. "I write these notes, and I get wound up and forget what I am saying, so I will stop. . . . We go to law school, got to give us a chance to talk to you. Part of the rules. We need to be able to talk and say what we feel. We need to argue. I made arguments or said things, objected, argumentative. This is the time for me to argue to you. . . . So when I sit down, I know I have forgotten something because I've forgotten something every time I've done this."

Reed went on like that, gradually wound down, and then stopped completely.

Jana Hoffman made her closing argument. She acknowledged blunders by the police but argued to the jurors that these didn't matter because Arthur had been positively identified by eight eyewitnesses. This was not true but went unchallenged.

The jurors retired to deliberate.

Arthur was found guilty.

And there this story might have ended were it not for the fact that fate finally intervened on Arthur's side. Although devastated by the verdict, both Carmona and Ruiz refused to give up. They called Dana Parsons, columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Parsons got an overview of the case, and a couple of things immediately jumped out at him: the police use of the Lakers cap, the disparity in ages between Kaiwi and Arthur. He couldn't be sure of Arthur's innocence, of course. But what did impress him was the unfairness of his conviction.

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