New evidence could set singer free

Times Staff Writer

The California Court of Appeals on Wednesday ordered prosecutors to refute new evidence that shows R&B singer Waymond Anderson is not guilty of murder or release him from prison, where he has spent 13 years for the arson death of a drug addict.

The entertainer known as Suave was sentenced to life in prison without parole for first-degree murder following the 1993 fire near the USC campus.

In a writ of habeas corpus filed in October, Anderson, now 40, asked the court to throw out his conviction, contending that new evidence proves he could not have committed the crime. The ruling Wednesday was the result.

The appellate order specifies that an evidentiary hearing must be held in Los Angeles County Superior Court within 120 days at which the district attorney must refute evidence that shows that Anderson was far from the crime scene when the murder occurred. If the district attorney fails to schedule a hearing within four months, Anderson must be released.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley declined to comment. Anderson’s lawyer, David L. Bernstein, said his client will be freed.

“What this means is the court found that the evidence we presented is legally sufficient,” Bernstein said. “Now it’s up to the other side to prove us wrong. I’m confident that our petition will be found meritorious and Waymond will walk.”

Anderson, who had a nationwide hit with an updated version of the Motown standard “My Girl” on Capitol Records, was arrested on Jan. 29, 1994, in the driveway of his Calabasas home. Police in bulletproof vests handcuffed him as his wife and 6-year-old son watched.

At the trial, prosecutors convinced a jury that Anderson was a ruthless drug dealer who had torched a drug den near USC on Sept. 18, 1993, setting a man aflame to avenge an unpaid dope debt.

After his arrest, Anderson said he was out of state on the day of the killing. He told authorities that he traveled frequently as an entertainer and could not recall his exact whereabouts, but was confident that his credit card records would show he was not in California. No one ever checked, including his own attorney, who failed to establish an alibi defense for Anderson during the trial.

The district attorney had no fingerprints, DNA or other physical evidence linking Anderson to the crime. Prosecutors relied largely on the testimony of two drug addicts who, according to police, were eyewitnesses. In court, both addicts identified Anderson as the arsonist.

Prosecutors also said cellphone data provided additional proof of his guilt. Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Ingalls relied on what she described as “crucial” records from a mobile phone registered in Anderson’s name by his former business manager, to try to show that the user of the phone was close to the scene on the day of the crime.

In 2000, a fellow prisoner at Corcoran State Prison introduced Anderson to Bobby Singleton, an aspiring private detective who tracked down the prosecution’s key witnesses: Willock Garcia, who was living on the streets, and Patricia Tidmore-Ellison, who was in prison. In the summer of 2003, both gave sworn declarations recanting their trial testimony, saying that they had lied under pressure from police.

Anderson’s defense team also produced receipts and sworn witness statements that indicate he was in Jackson, Miss., visiting his sister at the time of the killing. One of that state’s most revered preachers was among those who swear they saw Anderson in Mississippi on the day of the fire.

The appellate court appeared to pay significant attention to a portion in Anderson’s habeas corpus petition that challenges the cellphone evidence. The petition said that the police analysis of cellphone data was flawed and that there is no evidence the phone was in Anderson’s possession.

In addition, Los Angeles Police Det. Kent Anderson “grossly underestimated” distances between cellphone towers and the murder site in an attempt to convince the jury that the entertainer’s cellphone was significantly closer to the crime scene than it was.

For example, the detective testified that a cell tower at 1817 W. Jefferson Ave. was a “half mile, three quarters of a mile” from the crime scene, when, according to Mapquest, it was three miles away. Under oath, the detective said that another cell tower at 1519 Temple St. was “two and a half, three miles” from the site, when Mapquest measures the distance as seven miles, the writ said.

The call records also indicate that Anderson’s phone was four miles from the crime scene at noon -- when witnesses saw the arsonist dousing the living room with gasoline. By the time neighbors had dialed 911 at 12:15, whoever was using the cellphone -- never established by the police -- had moved even farther away.

On Tuesday, the appellate court issued a different ruling in the case. The judges granted a motion asking the court to accept new evidence provided by Mapquest that debunks mileage estimates presented to the jury by the police and the prosecutor at the trial.