Defense Loses--Murder Case Dismissed
A defense lawyer failed Tuesday in an unusual attempt to force the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office to prosecute his client on three counts of murder.
Over the objections of the defense, San Fernando Municipal Judge Stephen A. Marcus granted a prosecution request to dismiss murder charges against Alfredo Olivas, 19, of Hollywood, who survived a shoot-out with police that left three alleged accomplices dead after a robbery at a McDonald’s restaurant in Sunland.
Olivas’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Howard C. Waco, surprised the court Friday by objecting to the proposed dismissal. Waco said he wanted the murder case to go forward so that, under the discovery privileges granted defendants, he could obtain confidential police records about the Feb. 12 shooting.
Olivas could have been sentenced to death if convicted of the murder charges, and the judge asked Olivas whether he realized that his attorney’s tactical maneuver exposed him to risk of the gas chamber. Olivas said he did and would “go along with what he’s saying.”
But Marcus sided with prosecutors, who requested the dismissal on the grounds that Olivas may not have provoked the shooting, a finding that would be necessary to convict him of murder.
Olivas’ alleged accomplices were shot and killed by police officers staking out the restaurant. The murder charges were filed under a state law that holds criminals responsible for deaths that occur during the commission of crimes, even if the victims are accomplices.
Olivas still could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of the remaining 19 kidnaping, robbery and assault charges stemming from a string of robberies of fast-food restaurants, including the McDonald’s holdup.
The shooting took place as nine members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s controversial Special Investigations Section (SIS) approached the suspects’ parked car.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Kenneth L. Barshop initially said Olivas provoked the shooting by pointing a gun at the officers, but said Friday that he did not have enough evidence to prove that.
Waco said one reason he wanted the confidential police information was to eliminate from Olivas’ criminal record any mention that he was arrested on suspicion of the murders.
To do so, a judge must make a so-called factual finding of innocence, which Waco contends can be done only if the facts of the case, as described in the police documents, are made public. Without such a finding, Olivas’ record will reflect that he was charged with the murders, even though the charges were dismissed, Waco said.
The judge assured the public defender that dismissal of the murder charges will not hinder his ability to subpoena some police records of the shooting. Releasing the documents, he said, may be necessary to defend Olivas against the charge of robbing the McDonald’s.
“Anything that aids him in that charge will be given to him,” Marcus said. “I cannot see any way that the defendant will be prejudiced by having these most serious of charges dismissed.”
But Marcus reversed his earlier ruling that Waco be given sealed documents about past shootings involving the SIS officers, saying the dismissal of murder charges made access to that information unnecessary.
Waco said a murder trial could have embarrassed the Police Department by exposing the tactics of the SIS officers.
Critics of the unit have alleged that the officers, who shadow suspected criminals, have not intervened when they witnessed comparatively minor crimes being committed, instead waiting for the suspects to commit a major crime that would result in a long prison term.
Bail for Olivas, who had been held without bail, was set at $250,000 after the murder charges were dismissed Tuesday.