Friday, January 19, 2007

Corruption

“I don’t want to be the LAPD’s sacrificial lamb.” -- Lead Detective Ronald Ito, as quoted in Homicide Special, Page 316.


News of a complaint filed a year ago against Ronald Y. Ito, lead detective in the Bakley murder case, surfaced today. The report from the Associated Press didn’t elaborate on the charges, stating only that Brian Allan Fiebelkorn, a witness, and M. Gerald Schartzbach, Robert Blake’s criminal defense lawyer, claimed that Ito had not fully investigated witnesses, had withheld evidence, and had wrongfully assumed Blake was guilty because of his celebrity status. (Complaint Lingers in Blake Case (CBS News, NY))


On November 18, 2005, a civil jury found Blake liable for Bonny Lee Bakley’s death. At that trial on October 31, 2005, Fiebelkorn testified that he had presented evidence to the LAPD and to Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley regarding a key prosection witness, Ronald Duffy Hambleton, and had connected the murder weapon to a transient, Mark Jones. He claimed that Cooley promised him a meeting with the prosecuting attorney, Shellie Samuels. That meeting was never arranged. Instead, Ito contacted Fiebelkorn, presumably through Cooley’s instructions, and attempted to intimidate him. Ito memorialized that conversation in a secretly taped phone call which was inadvertently played by the plaintiff’s attorney, Eric Dubin, to the civil jurors.

According to a courtroom observer, it was the “best evidence yet of police misconduct and malicious prosecution.” On it, Ito is heard accusing Fiebelkorn of being somehow involved because Fiebelkorn insists on a meeting with his attorney present. The following is an excerpt from that observer’s report, which was posted on the Court TV website:

I’m sorry I cannot give you a word for word on the tape. The tape was so intriguing I was mesmerized. This tape must make it out to the public. It is the best evidence yet of Police misconduct and malicious prosecution. I just don’t know what Ito was thinking. He used every trick in the book to intimidate Brian Allan not to go forward. The court room was pin drop quiet. The Judge put his hands in his face several times in embarrassment at how Brian’s sincere pleas to meet with Samuels were shut down. “Ito kept saying, "you must be involved if you know this much detail” and “I guess only you know why you need an attorney present.” Brian pleaded with Ito “Detective, you must believe me, you will not win this case. You have a situation with a bad prosecution witness, and you will be blown out of the court.”


The tape was held by the prosecution in the criminal trial, and was never turned over to the defense. If it had been, the criminal trial might have taken a different turn by allowing the defense to introduce third party culpability. Schwartzbach, during his appeal for a new civil trial, told the judge that “to this day [he had] not received that tape.”

Fiebelkorn also tesified that Ito told him that “the trial was going forward as is.” Apparently, neither Ito, the LAPD, nor the District Attorney were interested in investigating any new evidence. Evidence which could have possibly cleared Blake of wrongdoing.

The complaint against Ito also states that Ito did not thoroughly investigate witnesses Gary McLarty and Hambleton, both who claimed Blake solicited them to kill Bakley.

Fiebelkorn testified that he and other witnesses had connected Hambleton to Christian Brando, on or about the time Brando was overheard in conversation stating that “someone ought to put a bullet in that bitch’s head.” Brando, in police interviews, denied knowing Hambleton.

During a hearing on a motion to dismiss the civil trial verdict, Schwartzbach said that Judge Darlene Schempp, the criminal trial judge, ordered the LAPD to find William Jay Smith, a transient whom the defense claimed was also involved with the Bakley shooting. In fact, during the criminal trial, Ito was overheard by a courtroom observer saying that he was “still looking for a witness in this case,” but it is unknown whether Ito was referring to Smith. The LAPD never found him although Fiebelkorn testified that he had seen Smith “panhandling in Crescent Heights.”

At the criminal trial, three witnesses presented evidence that McLarty was lying. Those three witnesses were McLarty’s wife and son, and another stuntman, Roy Harrison. McLarty’s wife and son testified that afterward on the same day Blake met with McLarty, McLarty told his wife and son that Blake wanted him to do some bodyguard work because Blake and his wife were being stalked. Roy Harrison stated that after the murder, McLarty called him because he couldn’t remember why he met with Blake, and asked Harrison what it was about. It appears that Detective Ito ignored this evidence, further suggesting that Ito might have been driven by a desire for fame. He certainly expressed this to Harrison in an interview where he complained he had worked on the OJ Simpson case and had not been interviewed.

Just before the case went to criminal trial, McLarty had a drug-induced episode that was so severe he had to be hospitalized. Ito took McLarty to the hospital but made no mention of it in any logs on the case, something he was required by law to do. The defense found out about the event and presented those facts during the criminal trial.

Although the complaint, as reported by the Associated Press, is against Ito, the corruption in this case is much more widespread. There has been evidence, according to testimony in the criminal trial, that pages of police logs were missing, that tape recordings were missing, and that defense and police interviews of witnesses were conflicting. Early in the investigation, the district attorney ordered the release of witness names “specifically to the press” according to the testimony of Detective Brian Tyndall. And although the press reported that no one saw or heard anything, in fact four neighbors near Vitello’s reported suspicious activity around the time Bakley was killed. According to court and police documents, the LAPD did not interview those neighbors until 10 months after the slaying.

Prosecuting attorney Samuels called to the stand an actor named Frank Minucci, who claimed that Blake solicited to him to kill his “wife and the kid,” stating that Blake had offered him a blank check and sent him money in the mail -- certainly more evidence of solicitation than either McLarty or Hambleton claimed. But Blake was never charged with solicitation of Minucci, because Minucci also said that he and Blake spent “hours and hours” on the phone at least every couple of weeks taking about their childhoods (Minucci claimed to be an abused child like Blake). According to phone records, there were no hours and hours of phone calls. It was a lie put on by Samuels to convince the jury of Blake’s guilt. Samuels put a perjuror on the stand, and knew it was not only unethical, but illegal.

So although Ito has been named, at least in one complaint, others should be implicated as well. Those other include District Attorney Steve Cooley, ex-Chief of Police Bernard Parks (who authorized a book author to be places where he didn’t belong), Assistant District Attorney Shellie Samuels, Assistant District Attorneys Greg Dohi and Patrick Dixon (who brought contrived charges in the first place), and Captain James Tatreau (who supervised Ito).

According to Miles Corwin’s book, Homicide Special, Ito said that he did not want to become “the LAPD’s sacrificial lamb.”

Congratulations, Detective Ito, you just did.

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