COURT WATCH: Judge Calls Evidence ‘Convoluted,’ but Denies Motion to Dismiss 

LOS ANGELES- CA, MARCH 2: Los Angeles Superior Court Stanley Mosk Courthouse March 2, 2004 in Los Angeles Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

By Sarah Chayet

VAN NUYS, CA – The prosecution here offered five witnesses, yet only one of them identified the accused, who was charged with five counts: burglary, attempted burglary, evading a police officer with disregard to safety, a hit and run resulting in injury to another person, and a hit and run resulting in property damage here in Los Angeles County Superior Court last week.

Judge Shellie Samuels agreed there were inconsistencies across the testimonies, calling the totality of the evidence “convoluted,” but deemed the accused guilty enough in the preliminary hearing, setting up a possible trial.

Deputy Public Defender Monica R. Salz requested a motion to dismiss the charges because of a lack of evidence presented in court, arguing Deputy District Attorney Inga A. Orbeli’s case had “hole after hole after hole…this is a good case for the People to review for a possible (dismissal).”

DDA Orbeli’s first witness was a victim of an alleged break-in and home robbery in Woodland Hills.

“I was home… I heard loud sounds of glass breaking,” said the witness. “I saw two men breaking in on the security footage,” said the witness, adding the sound of glass breaking was from the sliding glass door attached to the dining room.

When the witness observed the security footage, she claimed to have seen what the two men were wearing: one man was in a gray sweatshirt and gray pants, and the other man was in a black sweatshirt and jeans. The timestamp on the footage was 3:55 p.m.

“After a couple minutes, they came outside and got in the car,” said the witness. “It was a red car, I didn’t pay attention to other things…I was very scared,” added the witness, who stated she had been on the phone with the police and was able to provide them with the license plate of the red vehicle.

Judge Samuels stated the fact that the vehicle took off immediately must have meant that the car was already on when the two men entered it.

DDA Orbeli later attempted to use this detail to try to insinuate that there were actually three individuals inside the vehicle, despite the witness having only seen two enter into it.

“The cameras were detached and thrown into the pool,” testified the witness, referring to the security cameras that had recorded the footage on which she had seen the two men. According to the witness, they had thrown the cameras in the pool after this original sighting.

DDA Orbeli’s second witness was another civilian witness, who was driving north on Brynhurst Avenue in Los Angeles when he encountered a trash truck.

“I was at a stop sign…the trash truck signaled that it was OK to move forward,” said the second witness. The witness testified that, as he was passing the trash truck, he saw a red Mercedes.

“I was convinced he was intent on hitting me,” said the second witness. It was at this point that the witness identified the accused as the alleged driver of the red Mercedes. He stated the driver was alone in the vehicle.

“(The driver) looked panicked…(like) he needed to escape,” said the second witness. “He had no other choice but to hit my car…I was thrown toward the trash truck and hit my head on the window.”

The second witness sustained minor injuries from the impact such as back and neck pain, vertigo, and a bruise on his chest near his sternum.

“He drove around me and sped away,” said the second witness. “I parked my car on the curb…I saw LAPD cars drive past and helicopters above me.” According to the witness, the LAPD cars and helicopters were in pursuit of the red Mercedes driver.

“I don’t recall if sirens were on…the lights were flashing,” said the second witness about the LAPD cars he testified he saw.

LAPD Topanga Patrol Officer Gian Gunther testified he responded to a different break-in and robbery, in which the glass door was also smashed, jewelry was taken, as well as $2,000 in cash.

“I was not able to review the footage, but I saw stills,” said Gunther. He described seeing the individuals in the stills wearing clothing similar to the clothing he had heard described in a broadcast of an earlier incident.

Officer Gunther estimated this incident occurred less than a mile away from the incident in Woodland Hills. He claimed the victim of this incident told him she observed a “red Mercedes with dark, tinted windows,” and provided him with plate numbers.

This victim also allegedly told officer Gunther she “observed two people jumping over the wall,” and getting into a car where there was “somebody already in the driver’s seat.”

“There were so many officers with so many different (body-worn) cameras,” said Officer Gunther, adding his body-worn camera did not record any identifying footage, and suggested the court check with other officers that were present at the scene.

LAPD Topanga Patrol Officer Isaiah Galvez was on duty at approximately 3:48 p.m. that same day, driving a marked LAPD vehicle with another officer in the passenger seat. He testified that, while driving on the US 101 South, he spotted a red Mercedes.

“I (had) heard a burglary in progress broadcast,” said Galvez, who testified this broadcast contained information about the vehicle associated with the burglary, noting, “(We) drove behind it to confirm the license plate.”

According to Officer Galvez, it was at this point that the red Mercedes began to make “abrupt lane changes. I was unable to see how many people were in the vehicle,” said Galvez.

Officer Galvez testified the driver of the red Mercedes was responsible for six to 10 violations of the vehicle code. Of these, Officer Galvez listed violations such as driving 70 mph in heavy traffic, driving on the right shoulder, and unsafe passing.

“After one to one and a half minutes, I saw a helicopter…I backed off,” said Galvez, who  claimed he was no longer in pursuit of the red Mercedes at this point, he said that he was able to hear updates about the red Mercedes from the helicopter’s broadcast as time went on.

“He had crashed…25 minutes had passed,” said Galvez. “The airship (broadcasted) somebody was running on the train tracks.”

LAPD Officer Michael Fung took the stand to provide statements about what he had allegedly seen after the crash had already occurred.

“There was some minor damage to the back left tire section,” said Fung. “(The vehicle) was on the railroad tracks west of Brynhurst. There was damage to the undercarriage, the tire front side…the general majority of the front area. There was some damage to the railroad tracks that the engineers had to check out.”

“The People’s theory is that the defendant is the getaway driver,” said DDA Orbeli.

“There are inconsistencies,” said Judge Samuels, referring to the witness who had only seen two individuals getting into the car, as opposed to three. “One of the two individuals must’ve been driving the car…this is convoluted,” said Judge Samuels.

“The prosecution is asking us to connect a lot of the dots,” said DPD Salz.

“I believe they have connected the dots,” replied Judge Samuels.

“(The first witness) has to have it mixed up,” said Judge Samuels. “She said there were only two people in the car…she didn’t say it was a Mercedes.”

“She wasn’t sure who the other driver was, but (the vehicle) was on…meaning it had a driver already inside,” said DDA Orbeli.

“But if one individual flees the car, where did the other two go?” asked Judge Samuels.

“There is a time period…we don’t have an officer when (the accused) was arrested,” said DPD Salz. None of the prosecution’s witnesses could testify to seeing the accused outside of the car or at the scene of any of the burglaries or break-ins on Oct. 23.

“(The second witness) is the only one who identified (the accused) as the driver,” said Judge Samuels. “I wouldn’t want to take this case to trial,” said Judge Samuels, agreeing with DPD Salz. “We have civilian identification of (the accused)…it would’ve been good to have (another) witness.’

“I think there’s enough…I’m not going to put him in custody despite there being strikes here,” said Judge Samuels, denying DPD Salz’s motion to dismiss the charges due to lack of evidence. “There is sufficient evidence to find (the accused) guilty.”

The judge kept the accused’s bail at $50,000, the same as it was before the hearing.

About The Author

Sarah graduated from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo with a bachelor’s degree in English with a Technical and Professional Communication Certificate. In addition to being an author for the Vanguard Court Watch Program, she is a proofreader at CalMatters and works as a museum guide.

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