By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photo by Jack GouldLast year, someone armed with a pellet gun shot Cappuccino.
According to witnesses, a six-foot-tall white or Latino male climbed onto the roof of a carport in an Anaheim apartment complex where two cats were fighting and shot the chocolate-colored Persian later identified as Cappuccino.
The cat survived the shooting, which occurred on Aug. 16 or 17. But her owner was out of town on vacation and didn't return until a few days later, when she found the cat lying listlessly on her side. At the veterinarian's office later that day, an x-ray determined that a single .177-caliber pellet was lodged inside Cappuccino's torso near the diaphragm. Nothing could be done, and Cappuccino was put to sleep. Her owner then filed a criminal animal-cruelty complaint with the city of Anaheim.
County animal-control officers interviewed a 16-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother, who had witnessed the crime but for some reason never reported it until the cat's owner asked them about it. An officer found at least one suspect who matched the siblings' description of the shooter, and he lived next to the carport: 34-year-old white-collar worker and self-described animal lover Alan White.
The eyewitnesses told authorities White's cat Spunky may have been fighting with Cappuccino moments before the shooting. An animal-control investigator met with White on Sept. 30, 2000, more than a month after the shooting. "White told me he does own a cat . . . but has never harmed another cat nor did he shoot Cappuccino," states the investigator's report, which was obtained by the Weekly. "He told me he was working out [on] the day and time of the incident, as he always does on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
"I asked if he owns any guns, including pellet or BB guns, and he told me 'no,'" the report continues. "I asked if he would let me look in his back yard for any evidence of owning a pellet or BB gun, and he said that would be fine."
The investigator found no BB or pellet holes in White's fence. Even though no smoking pellet gun linked White to the cat killing, he was asked to pose for a Polaroid that could be used in a lineup. Figuring he had nothing to lose, White obliged. A month later, he discovered he was the prime suspect in the case when a woman, who sounded a lot like a telemarketer, left a message on his answering machine for him to call her back. He ignored it. She was actually an Anaheim police detective, and White later learned there was a warrant out for his arrest.
When he found out it was for cat killing, he immediately went to a Fullerton courtroom, where he could have ended the matter by pleading guilty and paying a small fine. After all, the charges against him were based on eyewitnesses picking his mug shot out of a six-photo lineup arranged by Anaheim police. If he proclaimed his innocence, White faced a possible $2,000 in fines and a year behind bars.
White to the court: "Not guilty."
In that photo lineup, White was the only non-Latino, the only man who fit the size description, and the only person who actually lives at the complex. He says he has a dozen or so Caucasian male neighbors who were never interviewed by the cops. The eyewitnesses were 50 yards away from the shooter, and their view was obstructed by a tree in full bloom, White said. He hired San Diego-based attorney Mike Freemont.
"In the course of our investigation, we found out that the apartment manager had seen one of the other tenants with a pellet gun two weeks prior to the cat being shot," Freemont told the Weekly. "And she had other tenants complaining that this other guy was firing a pellet gun at night and carrying it around with him."
Freemont said he shared this information with Anaheim police, who apparently did nothing until March of this year, upon learning that the attorney was going to subpoena the other tenant. A March 7 police report shows that an officer contacted the tenant.
"[He] initially would not answer the door, but I could hear the television, and so I yelled, '. . . come to the door!' A male came to the door, and the officer confirmed his identity. I asked him if he liked or disliked cats and dogs. He said he liked both." Thus ended the investigation—with no searching for a pellet gun.
"This is a case that never should have been filed against my client," Freemont complained. "There was evidence that the police totally ignored. This is typical of police work; they ignore every piece of evidence that doesn't fit into their idea of whodunit."
But the judge refused to allow evidence of a possible different shooter. It was up to character witnesses, including White himself, to counter the two young eyewitnesses' claims that the man on trial was the killer.
White has contributed several hundred dollars over the years to various animal shelters and animal-rights organizations, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Jurors also learned that he had no criminal record. On May 17, they came back 7-5 in favor of acquittal. With the jury hung, prosecutors dropped all charges.
White wound up spending $6,000 to clear his name. Between the city attorney's office that prosecuted him and the police and animal-control investigations, the case cost upward of $20,000.
"What really scares me about this whole thing is I'm a nice guy," White concluded. "I'm an animal lover. I could have gotten out of this by paying a $500 fine, but I can't do that. These things can come back to haunt you. I don't ever want to be sitting in a chair and explaining to someone that I was convicted of murdering a cat."
Cappuccino's killer remains at large.