Prison informant’s credibility casts doubt on conviction

After shooting a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who raided his parents’ home in 1979, Jesse Gonzales was in an ambulance with another deputy and apologized for the violence.

‘Sorry, man,’ he told the MP, saying he thought he was ambushed by a rival gang when he fired on the plainclothes MPs, killing one, records show judicial.

This was Gonzales’ defense when his case went to trial. To refute it, prosecutors relied on the testimony of William Acker, a prolific prison informant. Acker testified that Gonzales confessed to him that he had been informed of the raid and that he wanted to kill a cop.

Gonzales was convicted of first-degree murder, with one special circumstance finding that he killed an on-duty law enforcement officer. He was sentenced to death.

But prosecutors at the time did not disclose information to Gonzales’ defense team that would have damaged Acker’s credibility. And the case came at a time when a huge prison informant scandal was brewing and cast doubt on many convictions.

Now, as part of his decades-long effort to challenge his conviction and death sentence, Gonzales has an unexpected ally: the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. In a new filing Thursday, prosecutors are asking a judge to consider the merits of Gonzales’ request in efforts that could lead to a new trial.

“There is no doubt that the defendant shot this officer,” said Shelan Joseph, a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office. “Should he be held responsible for first degree murder or second degree murder? Our opinion is that the information relied on to seek and obtain the first degree conviction was based on truly incredible evidence.

Mark Overland, an attorney who represented Gonzales for 24 years, said the district attorney’s position is now where it should have been a long time ago when the prison informant scandal came to light.

“They could have admitted it,” he said in an interview. “What should have happened 40 years ago is happening now.”

Steve Cooley, who served as a district attorney from 2000 to 2012 and now represents the family of the slain deputy, said the case was a Dist effort. Atti. George Gascón to overturn the death sentences.

“They want to get rid of every death penalty case ever gotten,” he said in an interview. He did not comment on the merits of the complaint, except to say that the prosecutors who handled the case told him that these allegations were already in dispute. “It’s kind of a surprise to me that they’re revisiting it.”

The case dates back to May 1979, when sheriff’s deputies and narcotics officers from two local police departments served a warrant on La Puente’s home. They wore tank tops and T-shirts and drove unmarked police cars, according to Thursday’s filing from the prosecutor’s office. They announced themselves at the door and heard people entering.

Deputy Jack Williams told his partner, Deputy Robert Esquivel, to kick the door open. They entered about a minute after arriving. It was then that Esquivel saw Gonzales leaning against a wall, pointing a shotgun at him. Esquivel moved and Gonzales opened fire. The blast hit Williams in the chest, killing him.

Gonzales fled and Esquivel gave chase, seeing the man turn the shotgun in his direction. Esquivel fired his revolver several times, wounding Gonzales.

A 6-year-old girl and Gonzales’ 2-month-old son were in a bedroom, according to the prosecutor’s filing. Deputies found drug paraphernalia in the home and a .22 caliber pistol, but no drugs.

As Gonzales was taken away on a stretcher, several officers saw him raise his left fist and say “Viva Puente,” believed to be a tribute to a local criminal street gang, according to the filing.

At a hospital the next day, Gonzales told deputies the shooting was a “freak accident” caused by mistaken identity, according to Thursday’s filing. He said he thought the house was under attack from the Bassetts, a rival gang.

At one point, while hospitalized, he told investigators he was watering the lawn and ran inside when he saw “the cops” coming, according to the prosecutor’s filing. Asked by investigators to repeat what he did when he saw “the cops”, he said: “I didn’t say that. You must be confused,” the filing said.

Gonzales was in jail with Acker, who testified that Gonzales approached him with legal questions. At first, Acker said he didn’t want to get involved. He testified that Gonzales confided in him that he had been tipped off about the raid and that he wanted to “wrap a cop” to protect his house because there was heroin inside. He said Gonzales planned to claim, or had claimed, that he believed the officers were Bassetts, according to the filing.

Acker, who was awaiting sentencing after pleading uncontested to first-degree murder and robbery, said under cross-examination that he voluntarily went to authorities with the confession information, according to the filing. He hoped his testimony would get him transferred to an out-of-state facility, where he would be safer. He denied being a police informant.

But in the filing on Thursday, prosecutors said they looked at six other cases in which Acker provided information to law enforcement – and the circumstances in which he obtained a confession were “strikingly similar” to Gonzales’ case. In each case, Acker was placed in a cell with or next to an inmate under investigation at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. The conversations were never recorded.

One of those cases was dismissed after a preliminary hearing by Stephen Trott, a then-prosecutor who has since become a judge, because Trott had lost faith in Acker’s credibility.

In a deposition years later, Trott described Acker as a “classic psychopath” and “a freak,” the filing says. He concluded that Acker’s testimony was “utterly insufficient to found a prosecution and certainly nothing upon which a jury should ever rely if that is all there is to convict” in the case he rejected.

He also said jailhouse informants knew the best way out was to “present evidence against someone else and use it as a bargaining chip.”

In the recent filing, prosecutors say their counterparts in the district attorney’s office in the 1980s failed to provide psychological reports describing Acker as having “a history of deceptive and manipulative behavior” and “severe personality disorders.” “. The file indicates that he faked three suicide attempts to obtain transfers to other correctional facilities.

Acker testified in the Gonzales trial – during the guilt phase and during both penalty phases in 1980 and 1981. The first trial of the penalty phase resulted in a hung jury. In the second, the jury sentenced him to death.

Before Acker testified in 1980, the district attorney’s office requested an out-of-state transfer for him. Acker, the prosecutor wrote, “helped provide information about the murder of a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff. As a result of this cooperation, his life was threatened.

The prosecutor mentioned Gonzales’ prison gang ties and said he was concerned for Acker’s “safety if he is incarcerated in California State Prison.”

A grand jury investigation years later found that the district attorney’s office “tolerated alleged perjury by prison informants as a means of winning murder cases.”

In the recent filing, prosecutors said they don’t know if the grand jury specifically considered the cases in which Acker testified, but “its findings are consistent with the circumstances” surrounding his testimony in the Gonzales case.

The scandal prompted reforms that restricted the use of informants in prison.

Los Angeles Times

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