Advertisement
Share

O.C. man freed from jail is killed at a party

Times Staff Writer

A Santa Ana man who was freed from prison after more than a dozen Los Angeles Times columns raised doubts about the evidence was killed early Sunday after a fight erupted at a party and an unknown assailant ran him down with a car, police said.

Arthur Paul Carmona, 26, served more than two years in custody after being convicted of two armed robberies on the basis of eyewitness testimony. A key witness later recanted her identification of him, and two jurors said they had doubts about his guilt.

Carmona, a special education student, was arrested just days after his 16th birthday; he had no prior criminal record and steadfastly maintained his innocence. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but a judge threw out the conviction in 2000 and the Orange County district attorney’s office decided not to pursue the matter. His case took on prominence in the ongoing debate in the legal community over the reliability of eyewitness identification. No physical evidence linked him to the crimes, even though police recovered a handgun, a backpack and a getaway car used in the crimes.

A 33-year-old man who admitted being the driver in the robberies identified Carmona as his accomplice as part of a plea bargain. An investigator for Carmona later said the man recanted and said he’d never met Carmona until they were arrested. Police never established a link between the two.

Starting several months after Carmona’s October 1998 conviction, Times columnist Dana Parsons wrote a series of columns that raised questions about the evidence and argued for a new trial.

Advertisement

Since his release in August 2000, Carmona had testified in the Legislature in support of bills intended to prevent wrongful convictions, including one creating stricter guidelines for the use of field identifications, in which officers bring witnesses to a location where a suspect has been detained.

In Carmona’s case, police stopped him on a Costa Mesa street within an hour of one of the robberies. Officers placed on his head a Lakers cap that the robber had worn, before witnesses were brought to the scene to identify him.

As recently as July, he wrote an op-ed article for The Times in support of the legislation.

Sgt. Brad Hadley of the Santa Ana Police Department said Sunday that police were called to a mobile home park in the 2100 block of West 1st Street about 4:30 a.m. and found Carmona unconscious. He was pronounced dead at Garden Grove Hospital and Medical Center.

Witnesses told officers that a fight had broken out among several guests at the party and that Carmona was running from the fight when the assailant got into a car and intentionally ran him down with the vehicle before fleeing. Police said the vehicle had been recovered, but they could provide no other details.

Carmona’s mother, Ronnie, said her son had gone to a Long Beach club for the evening with relatives to celebrate a birthday and went to the party afterward. She said she was told that an inebriated older man was picking fights with guests at the party and that Carmona and at least one of his relatives decided to leave.

“Arthur decided, ‘Let’s just leave; it’s not worth it,’ ” Ronnie Carmona said. “They were outside trying to get away. . . . He didn’t want to be part of an altercation.”

Carmona had struggled to overcome the difficulties created by his ordeal after he was released from prison. He was angered by what happened to him and hardened by prison life. For a time he worked with his father, installing carpet. But more recently, his mother said, he seemed to have turned a corner. He had enrolled in a firefighter training program, bought the textbooks and completed his first week of course work last week.

“He was just at a peaceful point in his life, and this is just absolutely unexpected,” she said. “His backpack is right here. He had done his homework. I’m in shock here. I’m waiting for my son to call me back and walk through the door.”

christian.berthelsen@ latimes.com


Advertisement