The shooting appeared to be another cautionary tale about answering online ads.
The victim — along with his girlfriend and father who accompanied him to buy the phone — identified Alexis Soria as one of the men who assaulted him, according to police records.
But on Tuesday, the district attorney's office announced it was unable to proceed with attempted murder and other charges against Soria and the case was dismissed.
Defense attorney Michael A. Goldstein said the dismissal came after he unearthed video evidence that undermines the victim's account of the shooting. He said his client, a 20-year-old with no criminal record, was both thrilled and relieved by the dismissal. Goldstein credited prosecutors for dropping the case but criticized police for not doing more earlier to follow up on Soria's claims of innocence.
"He spent the last 20 days in custody facing charges that could have landed him in state prison for the rest of his life knowing that somebody had falsified these charges," Goldstein said. "There's no evidence he was involved in a shooting whatsoever."
Los Angeles Police Det. John Guerrero, who investigated the case, agreed that the video contradicts the story told by the victim but said the events that led to the shooting remain murky. He said police might never know what really occurred or whether Soria played a role in the shooting.
"It does not clear him completely," Guerrero said. "He's still under a cloud."
The original account of the shooting was given March 13, when police spoke to the victim, Eddie Moreno, while he was being treated for a gunshot wound to his right shoulder at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, according to a police report.
Moreno told officers he had been shot after responding to a Craigslist ad in which a man named Alexis offered an iPhone 5 for $120. Moreno's father and girlfriend, he told police, had gone with him in case anything happened.
The three told police they arrived at Corcoran Street and Fellows Avenue about 7:30 p.m. and waited in a black BMW X6 until they saw Alexis emerge from a nearby home, according to the police report.
As they negotiated the price of the phone, they said, Alexis punched Moreno's father in the face and tried to grab their money. Alexis whistled and three men wearing dark hoodies appeared, they said. One, holding a gun, unsuccessfully tried to open the rear passenger door of the car and fired a shot as the BMW sped away, they told police.
Goldstein said his client told him he knew nothing about a Craigslist ad or a shooting, but he did know Moreno and his father.
Soria, the attorney said, had previously been contacted by the pair via Instagram and asked if he wanted to earn some money. When he agreed, they picked Soria up and took him to various stores on March 2 to purchase phones offered cheap with new cellphone contracts, Goldstein said. Soria, he said, bought multiple phones that he gave to the men and was paid about $300 for his work.
Goldstein said his client did not know exactly why the pair wanted the phones.
Soria, he said, told him that Moreno and his father returned on the day of the shooting and mentioned having been in an argument with someone else before they eventually drove away.
Goldstein said he contacted the LAPD and tried to explain that the Craigslist story was untrue and that the victims had known Soria. He said police did not follow up on his suggestion to check the phone stores for surveillance footage that would show his client was telling the truth. Instead, they arrested Soria on May 7.
He was charged with attempted murder, attempted robbery and assault.
Last week, Goldstein said, T-Mobile provided surveillance footage that shows Soria making a purchase at a Santa Clarita store with Moreno's father March 2, supporting at least in part Soria's account. Guerrero, the detective, confirmed the video shows both men.
Moreno and his father could not be reached for comment.
Guerrero defended the police investigation and said he repeatedly asked Soria over the phone to come in for an interview to explain what happened but that Soria never did. The detective said the investigation would have taken a different course had he learned sooner about Soria's prior dealings with the victims, and that the arrest warrant was issued before Goldstein ever contacted police.
"There's more to it than we'll ever know, and there's no good guys in this," said Guerrero, adding that the phone purchases appeared to be some sort of scam. "They're all guilty of something."
The detective said he canvassed the neighborhood but no one reported seeing or hearing gunshots on the evening of the shooting.
He said Goldstein did not tell him which cellphone stores Soria had visited. Goldstein provided The Times with an email he sent to the district attorney's office on the day Soria was arrested in which the lawyer identified the Santa Clarita T-Mobile store along with its phone number, address and the name of the store manager as having surveillance footage.
"The sad thing about all of this is that the defense had to conduct the entire investigation with little or no help by law enforcement," Goldstein said.