THE BOB CRANE MURDER CASE PART THREE

AFTER MORE THAN A DECADE, PROSECUTORS THOUGHT THEY HAD A SMIKING GUN. BUT THE EVIDENCE THEY'VE BUILT THEIR CASE ON IS TAINTED.

The man in the Mazda RX-7 pulled over to the side of the road and waited. For almost 14 years, John Carpenter had prayed this day wouldn't come.

It was about 6 a.m. on June 1, 1992, in the south Los Angeles suburb of Carson. Carpenter, then 63, had been on his morning commute to his job as national service manager for Kenwood USA, an electronics firm. He suspected, correctly, who had been following him.

A small army of unmarked police cars swooped in and surrounded Carpenter. A Scottsdale police detective and an investigator from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office led the posse.

"You're under arrest for the murder of Bob Crane," the investigator, Jim Raines, told Carpenter.

Later, at the police station, Raines sifted through some color photographs until he found two he was looking for. One depicted what looked like a blood smear on a blue background. The second appeared to be a tiny speck of raw hamburger stuck to a similar background.

"You know what that is?" Raines asked Carpenter, pointing at the red speck.
Carpenter looked briefly at the photos.
"No, sir," he replied.
"You're a cool son of a bitch," Raines retorted.
"I've got nothing to be cool about."

Later that day, a horde of media swarmed around Maricopa County prosecutor Myrna Parker at the Los Angeles Municipal Courthouse. It came to hear about the breakthrough in one of the nation's most enduring mysteries, the 1978 Scottsdale murder of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane.

"We have medical experts who will testify to what was found in the car," Parker said confidently. "Human tissue."
Parker's boss, Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, reveled in the moment on national news and tabloid shows. Then at the start of a successful campaign for reelection, Romley spoke of the "new" evidence that had led to John Carpenter's arrest.

"If there was perhaps one significant thing," Romley told Good Morning America, "it was the brain tissue in Carpenter's car."
@rule:
@body:"Brain tissue" sounded like a smoking gun, something investigators had been seeking for many years.

Although a Scottsdale police detective had found blood on the inside passenger door of Carpenter's rental car the day after Crane's murder, that evidence was not conclusive.

Testing showed only that the blood was the same type as Crane's--Type B. Since DNA testing wasn't available at the time, no one could say it was Crane's blood, just his type, found in about one in seven people.

Police long had speculated that Carpenter had taken his bloodied murder weapon with him after fleeing Crane's apartment in the wee hours of June 29, 1978. The weapon--investigators never found it, but now suspect it was one of Crane's camera tripods--bumped against the inside passenger door.

While the blood was inconclusive, if prosecutors had evidence of brain tissue in the car, they could convict Carpenter with little problem.

Police reports detail how, in July 1990, county investigator Jim Raines appeared to hit the jackpot in a storage room at the county courthouse. That's when he found the color photograph he would later wave in John Carpenter's face. The photo of the red speck had been taken in 1978 at the Arizona Department of Public Safety, but apparently had been overlooked by prosecutors and previous investigators.

When the photo surfaced, prosecutors were ready to reserve a cell for Carpenter at the Arizona State Prison. But the smoking gun on which authorities would pin their hopes may be filled with blanks.

@rule:
@body:The headlines faded after Carpenter's arrest as prosecutor Parker prepared for a preliminary hearing. "Prelims," as they are called, usually are formalities at which prosecutors quickly establish probable cause someone should stand trial for committing a crime.

Although Superior Court Judge Gregory Martin on March 11 did the expected and bound John Carpenter over for trial, there was little routine about this hearing. Instead, much of the often-riveting testimony exposed evidence of law enforcement misconduct that will do more to aid Carpenter's chances for acquittal than he could possibly do himself.

Late in the hearing, in fact, an exasperated Judge Martin warned that a jury may be hard-pressed to convict Carpenter because of what he called "sloppy work" by police: mishandling, misplacing and destroying evidence, including the crucial speck of tissue itself.

The police blunders have enabled Carpenter's attorney, assistant public defender Steve Avilla, to allege someone in law enforcement manufactured the photo of the speck. Testimony at Carpenter's prelim did nothing to dissuade Judge Martin that the saga of the tissue is anything but suspect:

ù Despite Rick Romley's comments about "brain" tissue, two pathologists who examined Bob Crane's body say the speck wasn't brain matter, but appears to be tissue or fat that could have come from various parts of a body.

ù Prosecutors can't explain why police reports in 1978 didn't mention the tissue photo or the speck itself, or why negatives of the photo aren't available. A jury will be asked to believe an untold number of investigators and prosecutors, for whom a solution to the famed Crane murder would have been a career-crowning achievement, never noticed the photo.

ù Two pathologists testifying for the prosecution say the speck--if it is tissue--would have retained its moist appearance for only a few hours in the late-June heat before it shriveled. But police records indicate the photos of the fresh-looking object were taken more than a day after Carpenter turned in his rental car, with the speck allegedly stuck to the inside passenger door.

ù Former DPS technician Doug Ferguson claims he took the photos of John Carpenter's rental car in 1978. But he can't recall photographing the tissue speck. And two DPS criminalists who examined the car and door panel maintain they never saw the speck, which lends credence to defense attorney Avilla's allegations.

ù Ferguson's credibility as a key prosecution witness took a nose dive after he admitted lying about fingerprint analyses he was supposed to have done in the Crane case, but didn't.

ù Witnesses agreed a ruler held next to the speck in the photo appears different from the ruler in the other DPS photos. That has led some to conclude the tissue photo was taken at a different time than the other photos of Carpenter's rental car.

But the problems with the Carpenter prosecution extend beyond the tissue speck. In a case with more would-be suspects than an old Charlie Chan movie, investigators keyed almost solely on John Carpenter from the start. In so doing, they have ignored or downplayed leads about other possible suspects.

Investigators have given short shrift, for example, to a furniture mover who claims he saw a man--not Carpenter--leave Crane's apartment in the late morning of June 29, 1978.

Lee Fetty and another mover told police in separate 1990 interviews they saw the man drive away in a white Cadillac. Fetty said in a recent interview that the car had California plates.

A 1978 Scottsdale police report had noted a moving van outside Crane's apartment complex, so investigators suspected Fetty wasn't inventing his story out of whole cloth. But prosecutors dismissed his tale, especially after Fetty said the man wasn't Carpenter.

And Carpenter's defense team knew of a man with an excellent motive for murder--something John Carpenter lacked--who had been driving a white Caddy with California plates in 1978. The man, Alan Wells, was the business manager, boyfriend and future husband of actress Victoria Berry, who had discovered Crane's body.

Berry told police she and Crane had sex on two occasions during a time she was living with Wells in Los Angeles. Police never interviewed Wells--a former strip-club owner and actor now living in Reno, Nevada--until this March 6, after defense attorneys kept bringing up his name during Carpenter's hearing.

(Fetty allegedly told an investigator after looking at a photographic lineup that Wells wasn't the man he had seen in 1978.)

But Carpenter's attorneys won't have to discover who murdered Bob Crane. All they must do is make jurors have reasonable doubt that John Carpenter did.

These days, County Attorney Rick Romley seems far less confident of a conviction than after Carpenter's arrest last June.

"This will be a very difficult trial," he tells New Times, "but at least Mr. Carpenter is going to be held accountable. But this case isn't going to get any better."
@rule:
@body:In the days after Crane's death in 1978, the diseased relationship between Scottsdale cops and Maricopa County prosecutors widened the odds of ever bringing the killer to justice.

The relationship had started to fray within days after the murder. It stemmed from typical turf and ego battles, but it became a very public spat.

County Attorney Chuck Hyder wanted a larger, more savvy agency to assist Scottsdale; he later would call Scottsdale's investigation "the worst I have ever seen," a public humiliation the agency never has forgotten.

In August 1978, Hyder sent Scottsdale police chief Walter Nemetz a terse, seven-page letter that demanded dozens of things, some important and some picayune, that Hyder felt necessary for a successful prosecution.

It was becoming clear Chuck Hyder had no intention of prosecuting Carpenter with the available evidence. Scottsdale resented the implication it couldn't get the job done.

"It was discouraging," ex-Scottsdale lieutenant Ron Dean told investigator Jim Raines last year. "I'm sure you heard some of the stories when [Hyder] said, 'Fuck you guys, we don't care what you get, a fingerprint on a murder weapon with a confession is the only thing that will satisfy.' That's a bullshit statement to make."
After Tom Collins defeated Hyder in the 1980 election for county attorney, the Scottsdale cops hoped it meant a fresh start for their moribund case. Five days after assuming office in January 1981, Collins received a long memo from Scottsdale lieutenant Ron Dean.

Dean summarized the case against Carpenter--a "tense" conversation Carpenter and Crane allegedly had shortly before the murder, Carpenter's "strange" telephone calls to Arizona after the murder, and, of course, the blood in the rental car.

Dean tells New Times he didn't mention the tissue-speck photo because he hadn't seen it.

"I probably didn't personally look for anything like that," he says. "I saw three or four photos of Carpenter's car. That's it. If I had seen it, I would have jumped through the roof."
In April 1981, Collins and two others from his office met with members of the Scottsdale police department to discuss the Crane case. After the meeting, Chris Bingham from Scottsdale and Ron Little from the prosecutor's office were asked to revisit every aspect of the case.

The 21 color photographs taken of John Carpenter's rental car--including, police say, the tissue photo--apparently were in Little's case notebooks at the time, though no one can follow the trail with certainty.

But neither Little nor Bingham made mention of the crucial photo in separate reports of their reinvestigation.

In an internal memo written in June 1981, Little said he and Bingham had uncovered no new evidence against John Carpenter.

"No physical evidence has been found thus far that would definitely link him to the homicide," he wrote.

Little raised an intriguing theory at the end of his internal report.
"It is possible," he wrote June 22, 1981, "that the homicide was committed by a person totally unknown to the police. Considering the victim's proclivity for 'picking up' women, it is conceivable that the victim's death may have resulted from such an action."
The Crane sex angle long had fascinated many in law enforcement, even those not involved in the case. Most of the attorneys from the Major Felony unit of the County Attorney's Office had viewed copies of Crane's homemade porno tapes at one time or another, according to police reports.

Ed Campion, an investigator at the office, told a fellow investigator in 1990 that, at one time, he sealed the tapes to keep prosecutors at bay.

After the 1981 review failed to break new ground, the Crane case seemed relegated to the status of an unsolved classic.

Scottsdale lieutenant Dean retired in 1988, the same year a Scottsdale police spokesperson called the Crane case "technically closed." Dean took with him copies of the Crane case file, including crime-scene photographs--not the tissue-speck photo, however. Since then, he and retired Scottsdale cop Dennis Borkenhagen have worked with a San Francisco writer on a book explaining why they think John Carpenter is guilty.

In 1988, Rick Romley won election to a four-year term as Maricopa County attorney. Romley, an astute judge of cases with public-relations potential, had no aversion to having his office reopen the dormant case.

@rule:
@body:Jim Raines was known as a "book guy" during his years as a homicide detective with the Phoenix Police Department, an ace at putting together charts that linked a case's connections.

He wasn't remembered as especially skillful at street work--interviewing witnesses and tracking down leads that veered from the prevailing thinking about a case. Raines was remembered as having a huge ego--a reputation not easy to earn in the hotshot homicide unit. But none of the detectives who spoke to New Times remembered dishonesty on his part.

That is important in light of what happened shortly after Raines went to work as an investigator for the County Attorney's Office in June 1990, about a year after retiring from the Phoenix Police Department.

By this time, Rick Romley and his top aides had decided to reopen the Crane case. Raines' first assignment was the same as that of Dean and Borkenhagen, Little and Bingham and others before him: Find enough evidence to take Crane's murderer to trial.

To get him up to speed, Scottsdale detective Barry Vassall briefed Raines and prosecutor Myrna Parker about the case. Vassall displayed color slides of Crane's apartment, but none of John Carpenter's rental car.

A few days after the briefing, Raines went to the third floor of the county court building where the County Attorney's Office stores files. He soon spotted a box marked "Crane Homicide" containing three notebook binders. The notebooks held police reports, news clippings and photographs.

The 21 color photographs of John Carpenter's rental car included close-ups of blood smears and streaks on the inside passenger door. But Raines was most interested in a photo nobody had taken note of before.

"A small portion of unidentified material appears on the vinyl section of the inside of the right passenger's door," he wrote in a report. "This material appears to possibly be tissue. The status of the substance is unknown at this time."
Raines took the photograph to Dr. Heinz Karnitschnig, then Maricopa County's chief medical examiner. Dr. K, as he is called, studied it under a microscope and concluded it was consistent with human adipose tissue, or fat.

The newly formed Crane team was filled with excitement. Its members knew how important Dr. K's testimony could be in putting John Carpenter behind bars.

Prosecutor Myrna Parker's troubles, however, were just beginning.
@rule:
@body:A few weeks after Jim Raines stepped out of the storage closet with the "new" evidence, the Crane team learned some painful facts about the Department of Public Safety:

ù It didn't have the speck of tissue itself.
ù It couldn't find any written records that noted presence of tissue on the inside passenger door of Carpenter's rental car.

ù It didn't have negatives of its 21 photos of the car, which would have put to rest suspicions that the speck photo had been manufactured.

ù It had destroyed its reports on the murder in 1988.
Those discoveries set into motion a months-long wild-goose chase for someone--anyone--who might be able to remember what happened at DPS in 1978.

The Crane team started with Doug Ferguson, a former DPS print examiner working in the same capacity at the Phoenix Police Department. Ferguson had been at DPS in 1978 when Carpenter's rental car was towed in for an examination.

Ferguson's account would change several times over the next few years. But in his first interview with investigators in July 1990, he only recalled seeing the blood marks on the inside of Carpenter's passenger door. At that time, he said, he had called in DPS criminalist Bruce Bergstrom.

Ferguson said Bergstrom had seen the blood and instructed him to remove the door panel for analysis before doing fingerprint work. He remembered nothing about a speck of tissue. If there had been tissue, Ferguson said, it should have been placed in a vial before the door panel was removed and taken to the DPS crime lab for analysis.

Jim Raines showed Ferguson the 21 photographs, including the photo of the red speck. Ferguson was sure a fellow named Pete Janik had taken the photos.

Investigators soon spoke with Janik, now a Tempe police sergeant. Janik said he hadn't taken the photos, but he probably had held the ruler next to the blood smears and streaks during the photo session. He had a "vague recollection" of someone placing a tissue speck in a vial.

Still trying to get to the bottom of things, the Crane team in September 1990 interviewed retired DPS criminalist Bruce Bergstrom. Bergstrom recalled "in general" examining the inside panel of Carpenter's passenger door twice, both on the car and in the lab.

Bergstrom said he was quite certain the photographs and fingerprinting of the car had been completed before he took the panel with him to the lab.

That was exactly the opposite of what Doug Ferguson had told investigators.
Jim Raines showed Bergstrom the photo of the tissue speck. Bergstrom said it appeared to be a piece of flesh with blood on it. He said he had studied the door panel with a magnifying glass, but hadn't seen any tissue.

"If there was a piece of flesh," Bergstrom told the investigator, "it should have been noted, but I don't see it in my notes. . . ."
Neither Bergstrom, Doug Ferguson or Pete Janik put anything in writing about the speck.

In early October 1990, Ferguson called Jim Raines with news. He said he'd been doing some thinking and now remembered he, not Janik, had taken the car photos at DPS.

Also that month, DPS Lieutenant Colonel G.W. Ross responded to Rick Romley's request for answers about what had happened at the agency in 1978. Ross got right to the point, and it wasn't a pleasant one:

"According to the Crime Laboratory, even under the best of circumstances, it is unlikely that stains or substances can be identified as blood smears or tissue merely by reviewing photographs. Therefore, the confirmation of any stain as being blood or tissue requires extensive laboratory testing."
Bruce Bergstrom's notes had not mentioned tissue, Ross continued:
"Therefore, it must be assumed that personal examination of the door panel did not reveal tissue and that no evidence was destroyed."
A few days after Ross' devastating letter, investigators interviewed ex-county attorney Chuck Hyder. Hyder said he had never seen the DPS photos. Jim Raines asked him to study the photo of the red speck.

"It looks like tissue or skin," Raines quotes Hyder as saying. " . . . If we would have seen that, we would have been talking a whole new ballgame."
But the County Attorney's Office did have the photo, if former investigator Ron Little's memory had served him correctly. Little said after Hyder's interview he did remember seeing the tissue-speck photo, but it apparently hadn't made an impact on him.

Little said Scottsdale had sent all the rental-car photos to him sometime before he left the office in late 1981. That directly contradicts the Scottsdale case investigators, who avow they never saw the tissue photo.

Little first said in his 1990 interview that the speck appeared to be a grease spot or a piece of debris. He kept staring at the photo, according to Jim Raines' report, then said it could be blood.

"Is that flesh with a hair in it?" Little finally blurted out.
Little sat there a moment with his mouth open, staring at the ceiling, Raines' report says. "I never at any time suspicioned it to be tissue. All I can say is we blew that one . . ."

The Crane team pushed on. It already had Dr. K on the record that the speck in the photo was fatty tissue. Now, investigators sent a copy of the photo to other forensic pathologists for their opinions.

In November 1990, Dr. Vincent DiMaio, the nationally known chief medical examiner for Bexar County, Texas--its seat is San Antonio--looked at the evidence. DiMaio studied the speck photo, a series of Crane autopsy photos and slides of what Dr. K had identified as human tissue found on a pillowcase near Crane's bludgeoned head.

DiMaio concluded the speck was "most probably blood-encrusted brain--the only pathologist to date who has mentioned "brain--though he said he couldn't "absolutely rule out subcutaneous tissue, such as was found on the pillow."

Dr. Patricia McFeeley, then the chief medical examiner for the state of New Mexico, next looked at the same evidence as DiMaio.

McFeeley deduced the speck was "a piece of human tissue." But she added a caveat: "One cannot make that determination with absolute certainty in the absence of serologic tests or microscopic examination. . . ."

@rule:
@body:By the spring of 1992, prosecutor Myrna Parker was convinced she had a winnable case against Carpenter. A seasoned prosecutor, Parker is reputed to be a thorough and relentless bulldog at trial.

Her weakness, say even those who respect her, is that Parker can become tunnel-visioned about a defendant's guilt, even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.

Rick Romley says Parker was the last of the prosecutors in the Temple murders case to insist the four Tucson men later cleared of wrongdoing had been involved, even after it became apparent they had been wrongly charged.

Once Parker had become convinced Carpenter was guilty, she worked tirelessly with her investigators to gather enough evidence to charge him.

In April 1992, however, another major problem with the case became evident. It was one thing that Doug Ferguson recalled taking the photo of the tissue speck months after he'd told investigators someone else had. Twelve years is a very long time to remember details, even in a high-profile case.

But Ferguson--and prosecutor Parker--had a much bigger problem: He had lied to police about his work in the case and he had gotten caught.

Ferguson's assignment in 1978 and in 1990 had been straightforward. He was to compare John Carpenter's fingerprint chart to all unknown fingerprints that had been lifted from the actor's apartment and from the rental car.

Both times, Ferguson neglected to complete his assignment. In fact, it appears he stopped processing the prints after he had identified one of Carpenter's prints inside Crane's apartment. Even worse, he had lied to police about what he had done.

Asked at John Carpenter's preliminary hearing about why he hadn't completed his work, Ferguson said: "I identified Carpenter inside the apartment. To the best of my memory, that's what they were concerned with."

But Ferguson's present-day employers didn't buy his reasoning when it came to light last year. After his lies were revealed, Ferguson was forced to resign from the Phoenix Police Department.

Myrna Parker knew she would have to contend with Ferguson's lies as a key witness at Carpenter's trial. But she was raring to go, and, in May of 1992, she convinced Rick Romley that the case's considerable shortcomings were surmountable.

"You have to decide," Romley explains. "Do you go with something that has problems, that may be close, but you think the guy is guilty? We decided to go for it."
On June 1, 1992, Parker filed a direct complaint against John Carpenter instead of taking the case to a county grand jury. That's why Carpenter had a preliminary hearing, which--unlike a grand jury--is held in open court.

Defense attorneys may cross-examine prosecution witnesses at prelims, a right they don't have at grand juries. John Carpenter's attorney would take that right to heart at the monthlong hearing.

@rule:
@body:Assistant public defender Steve Avilla operated at a disadvantage during his client's prelim. Not only did Avilla have to quickly digest volumes of police reports, he had to make a major decision.

Should he and his co-counsel Candace Hewitt Kent allow Myrna Parker to steamroll them and wait for the jury trial to go to war? Or should they fight like mad, which would make Parker aware of their strategy?

Avilla decided on the latter.
"To be honest, we don't look for our clients to be innocent," he says. "You can deal with those kinds of cases where someone is guilty. The hardest case for a public defender is one in which he's mentally convinced his client is innocent. I became convinced that John Carpenter didn't do it and that they have a lousy case against him."
A former prosecutor, Avilla is a different breed from his counterpart Myrna Parker. She is buttoned-down, precise, organized; he is slightly disheveled, emotional, disorganized. Both are known as effective before a jury.

Parker questioned numerous witnesses at the hearing to try to show Carpenter's motive for murder. However, Judge Martin--a jurist respected by most as fair-handed and astute--put things in perspective at one point:

"This case boils down to the blood and Exhibit 50 [the tissue-speck photo]. There are all kinds of inferences to be drawn from John Carpenter's relationship to the victim."
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution tried to prove the bloodstains were left when the murder weapon brushed against the door panel of John Carpenter's rental car. At trial, however, Avilla hopes to refute that, by showing that unknown auto repairmen had access to the car before police impounded it. One of them could have cut himself while working on it, then touched the door panel.

Much of the testimony was devoted, as expected, to the critical photo of the speck. And the Crane team found itself in deep trouble when testimony by its own witnesses revealed the speck's checkered history.

Ex-DPS criminalist Bruce Bergstrom reiterated he'd examined the door panel of Carpenter's rental car and hadn't seen tissue or brain matter.

Doug Ferguson then took the stand. He now insisted he had taken the 21 photos of the car "about two weeks" after the murder, not the 36-or-so hours that police records indicated.

Ferguson said he couldn't remember taking the photo of the tissue speck, though he did specifically recall taking some photos of blood on the door panel.

Ferguson put a stunning new spin on what might have happened to the photos. He had stored them in his locker at DPS for at least five years and possibly more. He didn't say how had they gotten from DPS to Scottsdale and then to the County Attorney's Office. And what about those missing negatives?

Ferguson had no answers. And there were other mysteries.
"You used only one ruler, did you not?" defense attorney Avilla asked.
"Yeah," Ferguson replied.

Avilla then asked Ferguson to look closely at the ruler in the photos next to the bloodstains, smears and the speck.

As had other witnesses, Ferguson agreed the ruler's scratches in the tissue-speck photo appear markedly different from the scratches in the other blood photos.

"I probably had a different ruler then," Ferguson said. "We could have stopped, had a Coke and grabbed another ruler."
But earlier, Pete Janik--the Tempe policeman who recalled holding the ruler--testified he hadn't changed rulers.

"It looks as if the photo[s] had two different rulers, right?
"It could have," Janik answered.
New Times asked Bill Jay, an associate professor in the School of Art at ASU who teaches photo history, to study the rental-car photos, without telling him more. After studying all the photos, Jay concluded:

"There are too many variables to say exactly what's going on here. But as far as I'm concerned, these are two different rulers. There's not much question. And the [tissue-speck] photo doesn't match any of the other photos in terms of lighting, the whole look of it. It's a real puzzle."
Myrna Parker may argue at Carpenter's trial that the speck photo may have been taken at an angle, which caused different scratches on the ruler to show up than in the straight-on blood photos.

But Bill Jay and some prosecution witnesses are adamant the photo of the speck, too, was taken straight on.

The state took another hit when two of its expert witnesses testified the speck couldn't possibly have stayed as fresh as it appears for as long as it had to under the state's theory--at least 32 hours.

Maricopa County chief medical examiner Philip Keen testified the speck appeared "relatively fresh" to him, though he wasn't sure how fresh.

"I can take fresh tissue and have essentially fresh tissue 12, 24, 30 hours later if I have preserved it in the right way."
"In a refrigerator?" Avilla asked.
"Yes," Keen replied.
Dr. Thomas Jarvis, a retired Maricopa County coroner, agreed with Keen.
"You defined it within a day or two," Jarvis told Avilla. "I think much less than that, actually."
Jarvis testified he wouldn't have said the speck even was tissue unless investigators had told him its alleged history.

"If I were given the photograph with no information and [asked], 'What is this?'" Jarvis testified, "I would have said, 'I don't know.'"
Whether the truth of the tissue speck is a sinister one or major-league bungling by law enforcement, Judge Martin was outraged by what he was hearing.

"I can't understand how that piece of evidence could not get taken and preserved," the judge said in court. "It didn't. So if it ever gets to a jury, there is no doubt you'll get a Willits instruction and that may be enough to acquit him . . . certainly, because that is the law and a jury would be told that. And that is an important piece of evidence."
The Willits instruction, which refers to a 1964 Arizona case, is a defense attorney's dream. It tells deliberating jurors:

"If you find that the state has lost, destroyed or failed to preserve evidence whose contents or quality are important to the issues in this case, then you should weigh the explanation, if any, given for the loss or unavailability of the evidence. If you find that any such explanation is inadequate, then you may draw an inference unfavorable to the state, which in itself may create reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt."
@rule:
@body:One morning in March before testimony started, Judge Martin spoke to a group of high school students visiting his courtroom.

Steve Avilla was poring over a police report. Investigators Jim Raines and Barry Vassall were sitting next to Myrna Parker, busying themselves with paperwork.

The passenger door of Carpenter's rental car--the actual door--was resting against a wall nearby. The infamous photo of what prosecutors insist is Bob Crane's flesh was sitting atop a pile of other evidence.

John Carpenter was quietly writing in a notebook at his customary place at the defense table, looking more like an attorney than his attorney.

"The courtroom has some of the best theatre in town," Judge Martin told the students. "It's real life and you don't need a ticket to get in. If you're ever bored, don't be afraid to drop in.

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