Persistence by Lawyer Wins Man Freedom : Slaying: His story rang true, defense attorney says of client held 13 months in bartender’s death. Superior Court judge drops murder charges.
As a defense attorney for more than 20 years, Alan H. Yahr says he has heard plenty of clients claim their innocence, insisting police got the wrong man.
The claim is so routine that prosecutors even have a name for it, the “Some-Other-Dude-Done-It” defense.
But after hearing David Zamudio’s story, Yahr sensed this client was telling the truth: that Zamudio did not kill a Mission Hills bartender in December, 1991, because on the night of the shooting he was dropping off payment for his phone bill at the Pacific Bell office in Van Nuys.
“If someone is going to go out and kill somebody, it just doesn’t add up that he says ‘I’m going to pay my phone bill first.’ It just doesn’t make sense,” Yahr said.
Yahr presented that alibi and other evidence to the district attorney’s office in December. Monday, San Fernando Superior Court Judge Charles Peven granted a prosecutor’s motion to drop murder charges against Zamudio, a 29-year-old laborer from Van Nuys, who until last Tuesday had been sitting in county jail for 13 months awaiting trial.
“No one likes to see someone who is innocent spend any time in jail,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dale E. Cutler. “The only thing I can offer is that this proves that the system works. When we discovered the new evidence we acted quickly to release him. I believe we acted in good faith from the beginning.”
Even Yahr admits that there was strong evidence--albeit circumstantial--against Zamudio for the killing of bartender Lorenzo Flores, 33, who was shot at Lencho’s Bar at about 8 p.m. by one of two men who had come in looking for him, according to police.
Five witnesses had picked Zamudio’s picture out of a police photo lineup. Flores’ mother and sister told police that a man matching Zamudio’s description had stalked Flores the day before and the morning of the killing. Zamudio failed a police lie detector test and a tennis shoe found at the scene was the same size that Zamudio wore.
But Yahr, a former deputy public defender now in private practice in Sherman Oaks, doggedly pursued his client’s alibi. Yahr found employment records that verified Zamudio was working in Norwalk on a crew at the Century Freeway project the day of and the day before the slaying, contradicting witnesses’ contentions that they saw Zamudio stalking Flores prior to the killing.
Yahr also discovered that his client was identified in a live police lineup by several witnesses who had seen him at a pretrial hearing, tainting that evidence.
And while Zamudio could not prove where he was at the exact time of the killing, Yahr said he found evidence that Zamudio that night had stopped at a liquor store to buy a money order and then dropped off a payment for his phone.
“He didn’t have an air-tight alibi for the time of the shooting, but we know he bought the money order about 7:30 p.m. and the shooting occurred just before 8 p.m.,” Yahr said.
Yahr said that in his business of defending people accused of committing crimes, the attorney has to believe the client even if there is a suspicion they are not being totally truthful.
But in this case, Yahr said he believed Zamudio right away.
“David had a ring of sincerity in his story,” said Yahr, who was hired by Zamudio’s family.
Yahr said he was not daunted by the five witnesses, recalling another case in which four witnesses identified a client of his in a robbery, only to produce evidence that his client was in a full leg cast at the time of the crime and couldn’t have run in and out of a store as witnesses claimed. The charges were dropped.
Yahr took a risk in sharing the evidence, because if the case had continued to trial, the advance notice would have provided prosecutors with time to develop a counter tactic.
But Yahr said he wanted to save his client from going through a trial if possible. And he trusted the prosecutor.
“I believe that Cutler and his boss, Stephen Cooley, are both very professional attorneys and prosecutors,” Yahr said. “I believe that if they saw what I had they would do the right thing, and they did.”