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Parolee’s Lawyer Argues a Case of Mistaken Identity in Slaying of Guard

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Arguing mistaken identity, the lawyer for a prison parolee accused of murdering an armored-car guard asked a jury to reject the testimony of an eyewitness and acquit his client.

Bruce Hill, who is defending Sean Darnell Slade, compared his case to that of a sensational 1989 slaying in which an innocent man was arrested.

Slade, accused in the 1992 slaying of a security guard in a robbery of a Home Depot store in San Fernando, was “fingered” by the mother of a man who Slade killed in 1987, Hill said.

Convicted of manslaughter in the killing of Howard Baker, Slade, now 27, was paroled from prison only 25 days before guard Edwin Maldonado was killed. He faces the death penalty if convicted in the guard’s slaying.

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Slade was arrested after investigators developed a composite drawing, and Elizabeth Floyd, Baker’s mother, called police to report that Slade was the man wanted in the killing.

Hill used the slaying of an affluent Boston attorney and her unborn baby as an example of the injustice he says his client suffers.

Charles Stuart initially told police that a black male had shot his wife, Carol, an attorney, in the head and him in the stomach.

William Bennett was arrested after a massive manhunt. Bennett had a criminal record, but he maintained that he was framed. Bennett was never formally charged in the killing and was vindicated when Stuart’s brother gave information to police indicating Stuart was the killer. Stuart apparently committed suicide by jumping from a bridge 10 weeks after his wife’s death.

Slade and Bennett both have criminal records, each generally fit the description given by witnesses, and in each case, police were under intense pressure from a “public clamoring for justice,” Hill said.

“There is no doubt in our mind there is reasonable doubt,” Hill said. “There is no doubt in our mind that Willie Bennett would not have to wait for a husband to confess in order to be acquitted by a jury of his peers,” he said.

Hill emphasized Slade’s claim that he was running errands at the time of the crime.

The defense attorney also attacked the sole eyewitness to the crime, an employee of the hardware store. The clerk sees so many customers that he would be hard-pressed to give an accurate description of anyone, Hill said. The clerk told police the gunman was 5-foot-9, 5 inches shorter than Slade, Hill told jurors.

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In contrast to Hill’s calm and methodical argument, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeff Jonas used a loud voice and dramatic gestures to call Slade and his alibi witnesses a group of liars. “Don’t let yourself be haunted by the ghost of a man wrongly convicted,” Jonas said. “In this case, it’s an unreal dream.”

The jury will begin deliberations today.


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