The Kid Is Innocent

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

Parsons then proceeded to do something astonishing—particularly for Orange County and its often lackluster journalism scene: he began his own investigation of the case. He read the entire 700-plus-page trial transcript. He attempted to interview witnesses, police officers, investigators, attorneys, experts in eyewitness testimony. And then he wrote a series of nine columns questioning Arthur's conviction. Those columns contained a number of interesting revelations. Christine Hoffman, for instance, said that she believed that Arthur had been arrested wearing the Lakers cap. Casey Becerra, the witness from the Denny's robbery, said authorities misled her into believing that physical evidence tied Arthur to the case. A juror said he harbored grave doubts about Arthur's guilt and had been waiting for the defense to put on some alibi witnesses. Parsons also spoke with Arthur's friends; his relatives; his teachers; and his pastor, who had been visiting Arthur constantly in jail. All expressed amazement at his arrest and conviction. A basically good kid, they said, with a disability that really would have made it nearly impossible for him to act the way police said he did.

Parsons even tried to talk with newly elected District Attorney Anthony Rackauckas. The DA's response: he had complete faith in Jana Hoffman.

Santa Ana attorney Mark Devore took on Arthur's case. His investigator, a former LAPD officer named Robert Navarro, collected statements from Arthur's friends, establishing his alibi. Devore filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that there was insufficient evidence for his conviction and that he had been inadequately represented by Reed.

On June 10, Judge Dickey turned down the appeal. In a statement that was less than explanatory, Dickey said, "The court can't really grant a new trial for the purpose of trying the whole thing again. No trial is ever perfect."

Dickey sentenced Arthur to 12 years in prison.

And there the story of Arthur Carmona now hangs, in a kind of suspension.

The Los Angeles office of the highly respected Chicago-based law firm Sidley & Austin has taken on Arthur's case pro bono and has filed a notice of appeal.

Absolutely convinced of her son's innocence, Ronnie Carmona has been busy drumming up support, particularly in the Latino community, where the case is viewed by some as a potential watershed in the way the Rodney King case was for African-Americans. For one thing, Carmona hopes to raise enough money to launch an independent investigation. Private investigator Dave Marshall would gladly help with that investigation. So would private investigator Robert Navarro, a veteran of 28 years with the LAPD who said that not only does he believe that Arthur is not guilty, but he also believes Arthur is totally innocent.

Mona Ruiz continues to shake her head, trying to understand. In putting together the case against her nephew, police officers did things she was taught in the police academy were wrong. Was it that they were inexperienced or perhaps just rushing to judgment? She does not know. She tries to keep Arthur's spirits up; she reminds him to guard against bitterness; she counsels him to have faith.

And what of the others?

Deputy DA Jana Hoffman declined to comment, as did Investigator Cain. Attorney Reed would not comment about the case either.

Parsons goes over the case again and again, looking for the elusive answer.

And Arthur? He speaks to me through the thick jail glass, through the faint hum of the connecting phone. He tells me that he is doing schoolwork, finding out about college courses, reading a lot of books, working out, drawing. He tells me that he tries to stay hopeful, that he tries to draw strength from the visits of friends and family.

He tells me that he dreams of being a chef, that he dreams of owning his own restaurant.

He tells me that he dreams.

At the end of July, Arthur Carmona was moved from the Santa Ana Jail to the State Youth Authority for evaluation and eventual transfer to a youth facility. He will remain there until he is 18. After that, he will be sent to a state prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.

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