Attention to Detail of Probe Into Penn Case Is Scrutinized

Times Staff Writer

A San Diego homicide detective insisted Friday that accused police killer Sagon Penn had a clear view through a police car window of civilian Sara Pina-Ruiz before he looked inside and shot her twice.

Under cross-examination, however, Detective Gary Murphy admitted that he did a sloppy job of re-creating the Pina-Ruiz shooting two days after the March 31, 1985, incident. Murphy said he did not take photographs of his reenactment and failed to consult precise police measurements while placing the squad car in the same general location where Pina-Ruiz was shot.

In addition, Murphy wrote in his report that he was simulating the position of Agent Donovan Jacobs’ police car, even though Pina-Ruiz was actually sitting in the front seat of Agent Thomas Riggs’ vehicle when she was shot. Murphy later corrected himself and said he had intended to write in his report that he was studying the window on Riggs’ vehicle.

To contradict Murphy’s testimony, defense attorney Milton Silverman showed the jury an enlarged color photo of the police car window that showed a reflection of the photographer, trees and the setting sun in the background. The inside of the police vehicle was not visible in the photo, which Silverman said was taken last April 16 using the police measurements of the car and precise calculations to re-create the sun’s position at the time of the shootings.


Penn, 24, is being tried for murder in the shooting death of Riggs and attempted murder for shooting Jacobs and Pina-Ruiz, who accompanied Riggs under the police ride-along program. Penn has alleged that the officers were beating him with night sticks when he grabbed Jacobs’ gun and fired in self-defense.

Prosecutor Michael Carpenter spent much of Friday quizzing two police officers, two detectives, a sergeant and a criminal investigator about a bruise on the back of Penn’s head. When Carpenter showed the witnesses a defense photo of the bruise taken two days after the shootings, all six testified that they did not see the injury hours after the shootings.

But under cross-examination, the witnesses acknowledged that they either did not check the head area for injuries or would not have noticed the wound underneath Penn’s thick hair.

Carpenter also entered into evidence three pairs of boxing gloves that police recovered during a search of Penn’s bedroom on the night of the shootings. Carpenter has attempted to show that Penn was a proficient boxer and karate expert who exchanged punches with the officers after they stopped his pickup truck.


Silverman said that one pair of gloves was autographed by gold medalist Pernell Whitaker and given to Penn as an appreciation gift for his volunteer work to help the 1984 U.S. Olympic boxing team.

Guy Johnson, a criminal investigator in the district attorney’s office, testified that he seized the gloves after he obtained a search warrant to look for firearms, photos, clothing and other paraphernalia that would tie Penn to a black youth gang. Instead, Johnson said, he recovered items such as a karate trophy and a gym bag full of athletic gear.

Johnson added that he found no evidence that Penn belonged to any gang and agreed that all the materials indicated Penn was a “law-abiding citizen.”

As the trial finished its sixth week Friday, Carpenter attempted to counter defense claims that Penn believed Pina-Ruiz was a third police officer when he shot her. The defense contends that when Penn looked into the car immediately after shooting Riggs and Jacobs, he saw Pina-Ruiz’s shadow because the setting sun was reflecting off the driver’s side window.


Murphy was sent by superiors early on the evening of April 2, 1985, to the Encanto driveway where the shootings took place to look at the window of another police car.

Murphy testified that he remained at the scene until the sun went down and observed “nothing to hinder my ability to see into the car.” He added that he specifically looked for shadows and reflections in the window, but found none at the approximate time of the shooting.

When pressed by Silverman, however, Murphy acknowledged that he neglected to use available police information in the case to put his test car in the precise location as the vehicle in which Pina-Ruiz was sitting.

Murphy said he parked the car “in the approximate scene as I knew it” based on his memory from seeing the vehicle on the night of the shootings. He said he was aware that one of his partners on the homicide team had taken precise measurements of the car’s location, but he did not bother to request the information.


Murphy said he could not recall the pattern of shadows that nearby trees and buildings cast onto the driveway. He also said that if he had misplaced the car by four feet he would probably have found different results when looking into the window.

Silverman finished his questioning by asking Murphy: “Are you sure you were looking at that window (in the exact position and angle) between 6:13 p.m. and 6:14?”

Murphy: “I don’t feel anybody could do that.”

Silverman: “Someone who went out to the scene with a camera and checked his watch could do that, couldn’t they?”


Murphy: “Yes, with that equipment.”