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Judge rejects two charges against deputy U.S. marshal in 2008 killing

Judge rejects two charges against deputy U.S. marshal in 2008 killing
Ryan Gonzalez, shown with a niece, was shot and killed by an off-duty deputy U.S. marshal in 2008 after an altercation in an alley off Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

A federal judge on Wednesday tossed out two charges against an off-duty deputy U.S. marshal accused of killing a man during a confrontation in a Fairfax-area alley.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez faulted federal prosecutors for not providing enough evidence to convict Matthew Itkowitz of depriving a man's civil rights "under color of law" when he allegedly killed 26-year-old Ryan Gonzalez.

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Itkowitz still has two obstruction of justice counts filed against him in connection with misleading statements he allegedly provided to Los Angeles police investigators about what happened during the March 5, 2008, shooting. Each count carries a maximum 20-year federal prison sentence.

The partial acquittal of Itkowitz was a significant setback for federal prosecutors and dealt a blow to Gonzalez's family.

"What is going on in our justice system?" said Gonzalez's stepfather, Ray Smithen, outside the courtroom. "He killed my son in cold blood."

After the judge's ruling, Assistant U.S. Atty. Lawrence Middleton told jurors during closing arguments that Itkowitz lied about the incident, telling his supervisor that two Latino men had tried to rob him in the alley. To homicide detectives, Itkowitz recounted that he fired while being attacked, Middleton said.

Surveillance video of the incident revealed Itkowitz's account to be untrue, Middleton argued. Video of the shooting — played repeatedly during the trial — initially shows Itkowitz and Gonzalez fighting. The confrontation was sparked by Itkowitz striking his wife outside the tattoo parlor where Gonzalez worked, prosecutors said.

After the men exchanged blows, they walked away from each other. About a minute elapsed before the shooting occurred, according to the video. Itkowitz can be seen shooting Gonzalez with a Glock .40-caliber pistol. Gonzalez was shot five times, including twice in his back as he was chased by Itkowitz, prosecutors said

"After he shot Ryan Gonzalez, the defendant tried to cover up what he had done," Middleton told jurors in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom. "He described a shooting that looked nothing like what you saw."

Defense attorneys countered that Itkowitz wasn't trying to mislead police officers but had been under a significant amount of stress. Before his interview with investigators, the off-duty deputy had been awake for 30 hours and had received an injection of morphine at a hospital for injuries received in the fight, federal public defender Christopher Dybwad said.

"Sometimes people just get it wrong," Dybwad said. "Isn't it possible he got his memory wrong?"

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office had earlier declined to file charges against the deputy marshal, saying it had insufficient evidence despite concluding that the security video was "patently inconsistent" with Itkowitz's account of the shooting.

After closing arguments concluded, the jury began about half a day of deliberations without reaching a verdict. Jurors are expected to return Thursday to continue weighing the charges.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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