By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Although Becker suspected Eli of a little reign of terror, Glendale police surveillance failed to produce results. It revealed only that Eli spent his free hours quietly, usually with Christine Berumen, Hector Torres and another friend.
But Preston Becker never showed any alleged victims photos of Torres or the other friend until the day before Glendale police arrested Eli. At that time, he showed the wounded security guard mug shots of the friends. The guard said he didn't recognize them.
Becker remained confident he'd struck pay dirt. He composed a 22-page affidavit, asking a judge to allow Glendale police to search Eli's apartment, and Hector Torres' apartment, where Eli sometimes stayed.
In the affidavit, Becker attributed yet another crime to Eli Balkcom. In the end, this part of the investigation would lend great credence to Frank Balkcom's contention that the Glendale Police Department has had it in for his son Eli.
A Glendale man named Andrew Mendez had complained to police in July that two of four Hispanics in a car had pointed guns at him. But the case had gone nowhere, and Becker himself had authorized dropping it in August.
On November 1, however, Becker revisited the incident. Mendez told him he suspected someone named "Danny" had been responsible for the brief encounter.
Becker showed Mendez the photo lineup anyway. This time, however, the victim didn't choose Eli, in his standard number-two position.
"Andrew stated that the subject in photo number four had possibly been one of the subjects who had pointed a gun at him," Becker wrote in a report. "Subject number one in the lineup was possibly a passenger in the vehicle in the back seat."
The men in photos one and four could not have been involved in this incident.
But in his sworn affidavit dated November 2--just one day after his interview with Mendez--Becker wrote:
"Upon reviewing the photographs, Mendez indicated to me that he believed the photo marked number two, that of Eli Balkcom, was the passenger in the vehicle, but not one of the subjects who had pointed a weapon at him . . . [Balkcom was] leaning forward and looking directly at him."
New Times pointed out this egregious error to Glendale police about two weeks ago. A department spokesman said Becker would discuss the discrepancies in an interview. But Becker canceled the interview, Glendale police spokesman Jim Toomey says, upon the advice of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
(However, on April 25, Becker filed an amended report in which he conceded the error: "Upon reviewing the affidavit for search warrant issued on November 2, 1995, in reference to this investigation, I observed an error which referred to a statement given by a victim Andrew Mendez . . . The affidavit inaccurately indicates that subject Eli Balkcom was a passenger in the suspect vehicle.")
Armed with a search warrant, Glendale police raided Eli's apartment on the morning of November 3, as he and Christine were about to leave for work. They found a .32-caliber handgun--likely the weapon fired at David Molinar's car--but not the .38 used to shoot the security guard at the Glencroft Retirement Center.
The police also searched Hector Torres' apartment, but found nothing linking anyone to any crime listed on the warrant.
"They asked me, 'Were you with Eli when he shot that security guard?'" Torres recalls. "It was, 'Tell us now before it gets worse for you. Was he using your car? We've already got his fingerprints. He's history.'"
Torres says he knew about the gunshot into David Molinar's car door, but that news of the security-guard shooting floored him.
"Eli would have told me if he'd done something like that," he says. "No way he would have kept his mouth shut. That ain't Eli."
Investigators confiscated the cars owned by Eli and Torres, hoping to link the paint chips left on the bicycle during the security-guard shooting. The chips didn't match.
The Glendale PD arrested Eli Balkcom for attempted murder, burglary and eight counts of aggravated assault in five separate cases.
But prosecutors sought indictment on just two of the cases--the shot fired at David Molinar's car and the October gun-pointing incident at the Summerhill Place Apartments. That a grand jury endorsed the thin gun-pointing case suggests that the panel would indict a brick if prosecutors asked it to.
Eli faced nine felony counts in the two cases, including aggravated assault, drive-by shooting, burglary (of the car at the complex) and other charges.
The attempted-murder case was on the back burner, but, by all accounts, Becker insisted he'd arrested the right man on that case.
"The uncharged cases are still being investigated," spokesman Toomey said in early April, when New Times first contacted him about this story. "But as far as I know, the suspect or suspects in those cases haven't changed."
But they had.
The news of Eli's arrest staggered Frank Balkcom, but he resigned himself to what he feared was the inevitable.
But on November 15, two weeks after Eli's arrest, Balkcom became enmeshed in the security-guard-shooting case. It happened, he avows, quite by accident.
"I was checking out the area near 67th [Avenue] and Butler because we've always had a lot of burglaries there," Balkcom says. "It was right near where they said Eli shot the guard. It's about two in the morning and I see a white Oldsmobile Cutlass that looks just like Eli's car. It's occupied by four subjects. No big deal, but something kicked in."