The first prosecution witness to identify Richard Ramirez in court as the so-called Night Stalker had initially told police that he could not make such an identification, a Monterey Park policeman testified Wednesday.
On that and several other key points, Officer Dan Romero directly contradicted the testimony of Jorge Gallegos, who testified on Feb. 6 and 7 through a Spanish interpreter.
The glaring contradictions may have to do, at least in part, with a language barrier between Romero and Gallegos on the night Tsai-Lian Yu was murdered on Alhambra Avenue in Monterey Park more than four years ago. Romero only speaks English; Gallegos only Spanish.
Interview in English
Gallegos was one of nearly 25 people whom Romero interviewed during the 45 minutes that Romero was at the crime scene. Romero said he conducted the interview in English.
Earlier, Gallegos testified that Romero had barely interviewed him and that no officer on the scene had asked him if he could identify the killer.
But Romero testified Wednesday that he had specifically asked Gallegos if he would be able to identify the gunman at a later lineup and that Gallegos had said no.
It will ultimately be up to the Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing the multiple murder case to resolve such contradictions.
Romero was the second witness to be called by attorneys Daniel V. Hernandez and Ray G. Clark, who commenced their defense of Ramirez on Tuesday. They have said they hope to persuade the jury of six men and six women that their client is a victim of mistaken identity.
Hernandez said Tuesday in his opening statement that expert witnesses will testify that lighting and other conditions at the time of the alleged Night Stalker crimes could not have allowed prosecution witnesses, including six survivors, to positively identify Ramirez.
Hernandez also told the jury that it will hear evidence that fingerprints, blood and hair found at many of the crime scenes belonged to neither the victims nor Ramirez.
Gallegos and a woman were sitting in his pickup truck parked at a curb when the murder occurred about 11 p.m. on March 17, 1985.
He said Yu pulled up behind his truck and then another car also stopped. What appeared to Gallegos as a lover's quarrel ensued. Only after the assailant drove off did Gallegos realize that the woman had been shot and was dying.
In February, Gallegos testified that he got a good look at the assailant and then pointed Ramirez out in the courtroom.
Certain of Identification
Under cross-examination by Hernandez, Gallegos remained certain of his identification, although he asked to view Ramirez from the side and the back, and without the defendant's customary black sunglasses. But Ramirez refused to comply.
Because of Romero's report, Gallegos was not summoned to a police lineup several days after Ramirez's Aug. 31, 1985, arrest.
Gallegos' identification of Ramirez came as a surprise to Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Phil Halpin. At the 1986 preliminary hearing, the prosecutor had expected Gallegos only to testify to the events of that night. Instead, Gallegos identified Ramirez as the killer.
In all, Ramirez, 29, is charged with 13 murders and 30 other felonies in a series of savage nighttime attacks throughout Los Angeles County, mostly in the spring and summer of 1985.