Weizoerick approached a motel employee and told him he needed to get into Cole's room. Jeff Hirsch, the motel manager named in Weizoerick's report, gave him the key to Room 1321, and, after knocking, Weizoerick opened the door.

Inside, Carpinella had just finished taking a shower. Inside her backpack, Weizoerick found four baggies of speed, a plastic balance scale, and a glass pipe containing marijuana. Carpinella reportedly told Weizoerick she was recently charged with drug sales in Huntington Beach but claimed the drugs in her backpack weren't hers. According to the police report, Carpinella told Weizoerick that she placed the drugs "in the pack just prior to us entering the room. She stated that Cole left it laying on a countertop, and she did not want to leave it out. . . I [Weizoerick] again asked Carpinella who the drugs belonged to, and she said they were Cole's."

My investigation into Randy Cole's arrest—already weird—was about to get weirder. After reading through the police report, I called Hirsch, the hotel manager who had let Weizoerick into Cole's room without a search warrant. Holmesly had faxed me an official-looking hotel memo written by Hirsch.

The letter was remarkable. In it, Hirsch claimed that Weizoerick had threatened him and that Cole had checked out of Room 1321, where the drugs were found.

Holmesly had urged me to call Hirsch, promising me that he could prove her son was innocent. When I finally spoke with him, Hirsch told me that he was working the motel desk when Cole was arrested and confirmed that the arresting officer, Weizoerick, didn't have a search warrant for Cole's room. Everything checked out—until I recited a sentence toward the end of the letter in which Hirsch stated that Cole had checked out of Room 1321 the night before he was arrested.

"I never wrote that," Hirsch said. "He hadn't checked out of that room; he had rented another one. But both rooms were still under his name."

I faxed Hirsch the letter Holmesly had sent me. Five minutes later, he called me back.

"I didn't write the letter you have in your possession," Hirsch told me. He was clearly upset. He faxed me a copy of the letter he had sent to Holmesly; it made no mention of being threatened by Weizoerick or Cole checking out of Room 1321. I told Hirsch he was being scammed and called Holmesly to report my discovery.

"He's lying!" she screeched. "We're going to sue his ass for letting that cop into Randy's motel room without a search warrant. That bastard!"

An hour later, Hirsch called me back. Cole and Holmesly had just called him, threatening to sue him unless he told me he wrote both versions of the same letter. I told Hirsch he should consider telling the police about the letter.

Later that night, I got a call from Cole. He sounded surprised when I told him that his mother had apparently rewritten Hirsch's letter. Since Hirsch had already told me he had just spoken to Cole, I knew Cole's surprise was an act. Now he was trying to guilt-trip me into forgetting the whole thing.

"She's just a desperate mother trying to help her son," Randy told me.

That's when Holmesly started sobbing into the receiver. Until then, I hadn't even known she was on the line.

"Mom, please put down the telephone," Cole said, sighing in defeat. "Please, I have to ask you to hang up now, okay, Mom?"

Holmesly let out a wail of sheer anguish.

"Please forgive me," she said. "Do you forgive me?"

"Yes, Mom."

"I wasn't talking to you, Randy!" Holmesly screeched. "I was talking to Nick!"

 

Randy Cole's Aug. 7, 2001, sentencing hearing at the Orange County Superior Courthouse was so fast I almost missed it. I had never seen Cole face to face. On the telephone, he sounded like a nice guy. In the old photograph of him that his mother sent me, he looked almost baby-faced. In person, he was wiry, muscular, intense. His short, spiky hair was dyed jet-black. His forearms were covered in spiderweb tattoos. He looked like an extra from the HBO series Oz.

I had tried to help Cole. But when I heard his defense attorney getting grilled by the judge about "certain evidence introduced at trial that was false," I knew I hadn't been very helpful. A few minutes later, his defense attorney asked for a new trial and for the chance to introduce a new plea on behalf of his client: guilty in exchange for 16 months in prison. The judge refused and hit Cole with the maximum sentence possible: seven years in state prison.

A few days before the hearing, I received a voice-mail message from Weizoerick, who seemed remarkably friendly. "Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, but we've been swamped," he said. "If you have any more questions about Randy Cole, let me know. . . . And let me know when that story's coming out—just for my own curiosity."

I didn't bother returning Weizoerick's call because I wasn't sure I had a story anymore. But a few days later, Steve Schulman, a Newport Beach police spokesman, called to say police had become aware that a letter that had been introduced as evidence in the Cole case was forged.

"We find it ironic that a journalist seeking to uncover allegations of wrongdoing by Newport Beach police officers instead uncovers an actual crime committed by someone else," Schulman told me. "You're the sleuth who uncovered this. Have you ever considered working for us?"

I already did.

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