The Case of the Dog That Couldn't Sniff Straight

Sloppy police work, callous prosecutors, indifferent judges doom dirt-poor Latino man

Scott Borthwick reads the lack of evidence this way: his client is innocent. A former Modesto public defender, the 32-year-old defense attorney now works with the Law Offices of Meyer & Villalobos in Santa Ana and has taken the case pro bono.

"This case is all about an abuse of power," said Borthwick. "My client has been locked up in jail for five months for a crime I believe the DA's office should know he didn't commit."

But instead of dropping charges as exculpatory evidence was uncovered after the arrest, Rozenberg and Kim added gang enhancements against Ochoa during a preliminary hearing. If an Orange County jury finds him guilty, the enhancements add decades more behind bars.

When confronted with fabricated evidence of his guilt, Ochoa, seen holding his little brother, dismissed it as "UFO stuff"
When confronted with fabricated evidence of his guilt, Ochoa, seen holding his little brother, dismissed it as "UFO stuff"

On Aug. 24, Superior Court Judge John McOwen heard Buena Park gang cop Mike Riley's assertion that Ochoa is a member of a gang and that the May 24 robbery and carjacking was done for the gang. Riley's proof? The officer said Ochoa grew up in an area dominated by the gang, wears oversized clothes, plays with two teenage friends who are suspected gang members and allegedly "once" visited a gang hangout.

Borthwick asked Riley why he was certain the crime was gang-related.

"I know that people that I spoke to in the community that surrounds that area were aware that a member of the Eastside Buena Park [gang] had committed a carjacking in that area after the fact of that via the grapevine," testified Riley.

Pressed by Borthwick, the officer grew feisty but conceded his testimony was based on "eighth-hand information . . . and I have no way of tracking it back to its original source."

Judge McOwen was nonetheless impressed by the DA's presentation. At the conclusion of the Aug. 24 hearing, McOwen approved the prosecution's case and added the gang enhancements.

The trial begins Monday in Judge William Evans' court. Ochoa's mother, Luz, doesn't speak much English, but she has a question for Rozenberg, Kim, DA Rackauckas and Judge McOwen: "Why are you doing this to my boy?" 

See subsequent story on this case, There Once Was a Judge From Nantucket.


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