Pubdate: Thu, 05 Oct 2000
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2000 San Jose Mercury News
Contact:  750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA 95190
Fax: (408) 271-3792
Author: Linda Deutsch
Bookmark: LA police corruption clippings


Opening Statements: Defense Calls Accuser Perez A `Street Thug In A Police 

LOS ANGELES -- The first trial stemming from the largest police corruption 
scandal in city history opened Wednesday with attorneys for four accused 
officers calling a former co-worker -- the prosecution's key witness -- an 
evil, lying thug.

The statements were unusual because they came on the first day of jury 
selection. Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor offered lawyers the 
chance to give statements to inform the jury pool about what might lie 
ahead in a trial that is expected to last three to four weeks.

Attorneys for the accused -- Sgt. Edward Ortiz and officers Brian Liddy, 
Paul Harper and Michael Buchanan -- used the chance to attack former 
officer Rafael Perez, whose accusations sparked the scandal.

"He was no more than a street thug in a police uniform, the likes of which 
this city has never seen before," said Barry Levin, who represents Ortiz. 
"His coldness, his callousness, his evil knew no bounds."

Perez, 33, received a lenient sentence for stealing $1 million worth of 
cocaine from a police evidence room in exchange for testifying about 
alleged officer misconduct in the Rampart anti-gang unit.

Perez accused his fellow officers of planting evidence, shooting suspects 
and perjuring themselves. Some 100 cases have been reversed as a result of 
Perez's story, but few officers have been charged.

"This is not the trial of Rafael Perez," said Laura Laesecke, deputy 
district attorney. "This is the trial of four defendants who were members 
of the Rampart CRASH," the gang-fighting Community Resources Against Street 
Hoodlums unit that operated in the city's most violent neighborhoods near 

Defense attorney Harland Braun told the jury candidates they would hear 
from a witness who saw Perez shoot a mother and son and dispose of their 
bodies in Mexico.

"That's the kind of witness the prosecution is bringing before you," said 
Braun, who drew on a Los Angeles Times story Wednesday that said federal 
authorities were digging for bodies in a Tijuana dump.

The story said Perez's former lover alleged he and another former officer, 
David Mack, murdered three people in a botched drug deal and disposed of 
the bodies in the dump.

Mack is serving a 14-year federal prison sentence for bank robbery. Winston 
Kevin McKesson, Perez's lawyer, has called the allegations "a desperate 
plea for attention."

Braun also told prospective jurors about Javier Ovando, a gang member shot 
by Perez and his former partner, Nino Durden, and left paralyzed for life. 
Durden is charged with attempted murder in the shooting.

"This is a very clever man," Braun said of Perez, "a very smart man who 
bamboozled the district attorney's office into the deal of a lifetime." 
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