A Superior Court judge has denied Edward Contreras a new trial, upholding his 1997 conviction in the murder of Freddy Walker two years earlier at a backyard barbecue in Santa Clarita.
Judge Gregory A. Dohi of the Van Nuys Superior Court read his ruling from the bench, shattering Contreras’ hopes that he’d be leaving the courtroom a free man.
“He was shocked. In his mind, he was already home,” said Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project, which represented Contreras. “He thought OK, as soon as the judge hears everything, the judge is going to realize I’m innocent and send me home, but it didn’t work out that way.”
Contreras, 40, and fellow defendant Scott Taylor were convicted of working together to kill, dismember and dispose of Walker’s body. Taylor has told the court that although Contreras was with him at the time, he was not involved. Witness Lisa Garringer testified in 1997 that Contreras helped Taylor kill Walker, but has now withdrawn her testimony, claiming she was frightened into lying. It was that issue that formed the crux of CIP’s appeal.
Brooks said he tried to counsel his client before they went into court to be ready for anything.
“I said try to prepare yourself, because these cases, sometimes, they go both ways, but today is your best shot. We’re not going to give up on your case, we believe you’re innocent and we’re going to keep fighting to get you out, but there’s no way for me to sugar coat it.”
“The judge explained his verdict in detail,” Brooks said. “In assessing all the witnesses, he did not find that there was sufficient evidence that there was false evidence in the trial. It was a tough decision to hear; the judge said that he believed that Lisa Garringer and her mother were credible when they testified. The whole case really was about whether Lisa’s testimony was false at trial.”
Brooks is planning to regroup with his attorneys and examine the decision for issues that can be appealed. There is a possibility of filing a habeas petition in either the state Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.
“There’s always the possibility of clemency, but the case certainly got a lot more difficult today,” he said. “We have to weigh our options.”
In the meantime, he’s trying to shake the bad experience from this morning’s court.
“It was horrible, his (Contreras’) mother was there today, she really believed he was going to come home today and all his family…these cases are devastating.”