The aggravated-assault case against 17-year-old Lynn Ivory was full of holes, not the least of which was that the Phoenix youth's alleged victims didn't want to testify against him.
One of the victims already had recanted his original claim--that Ivory had allegedly pointed a pistol at the two men.
The other victim wouldn't even talk to prosecutors about the November 1993 incident, which ended with no injuries and no shots fired. To the contrary, witness No. 2 even attended a court hearing with Ivory in an apparent show of support.
But the Maricopa County Attorney's Office had a fallback position: Ivory also faced felony charges in an unrelated 1995 car-theft case. A conviction in that case was far more likely.
It may have seemed prudent to offer Ivory a plea bargain: Plead guilty to stealing the car and the prosecution will dismiss the assault charge and let a judge decide whether Ivory goes to prison.
But prosecutors--fulfilling County Attorney Richard Romley's rigid policy of seeking prison terms in all cases in which a gun was used--wouldn't go that route. A trial seemed certain after Romley's office declined last month to drop the assault charge.
But Lynn Ivory will never have his day in court. On March 8, Glendale police dredged his battered body from a canal. He had been brutally murdered.
It was a sad and predictable end for a boy whose life had been a blur of guns, gangs and drugs.
But there's an unusual twist to Ivory's violent demise: Two of the four men now in custody on murder charges--Milton Stamps and his 17-year-old stepson, Bruce Phillips--were the alleged victims of Ivory's 1993 aggravated assault.
Police theorize that Ivory may have been murdered in revenge for the gun-pointing incident. Or, he could have been silenced out of fear that he would seek a better plea bargain and sing about crimes allegedly committed by Stamps, Phillips and others.
That the prosecutor was bound by policy to press on with shaky evidence raises questions about what Ivory's fate may have been if the county attorney didn't blindly adhere to the noplea-bargain-in-gun-cases policy.
"Can I say for sure that Lynn Ivory would be alive right now if the county attorney had dropped the agg assault?" asks attorney Kim O'Connor, the youth's defense lawyer. "No, I can't. But it fits into the mix. How can they say the decision not to dismiss was based on anything but their policy? They had uncooperative witnesses, no injuries and a guy who was caught cold in another crime [the car theft]. But the gun policy leaves little or no leeway for prosecutors to maneuver."
Barnett Lotstein, a special assistant to County Attorney Romley, says the gun-related prosecution was appropriate.
"We have a very, very strict policy, and exceptions are far and few between," Lotstein says. "Mr. Ivory was accused of using a revolver during the commission of a crime, and we take a hard-line public policy on those kinds of cases. ... Bottom line is we just don't trade gun cases for theft cases."
Asked to describe an "exception" to the policy, Lotstein cites a hypothetical: "Let's say there's a domestic situation between a 75-year-old father and 55-year-old son in which the older man gets exasperated and waves a gun around. He has no record, but just kind of loses control. He might be someone we'd consider as an 'exception,' an old man with no criminal history."
That description doesn't apply to Lynn Ivory, who was a teenager with a record. The narrative of Ivory's short life can be found in juvenile and adult court records.
He was raised in Chicago, the second of four children born to a petty criminal father and a mother with a drinking problem. Illinois made him a ward of the state in 1988, when he was 10. By his 15th birthday, Ivory had been detained by police in eight criminal incidents. He admitted membership in two street gangs.
In the summer of 1993, records show, Ivory's paternal grandmother moved him to Arizona. He lived in west Phoenix with relatives who, by all accounts, attempted diligently to turn him around.
But the street proved too alluring.
In November 1993, according to police reports and court testimony, Ivory and several other youths confronted Milton Stamps and Bruce Phillips near 67th Avenue and Indian School Road. Ivory and Phillips knew each other and were in rival west-Valley gangs.
A witness called 911. When Phoenix police questioned the participants, Bruce Phillips initially said that Ivory, then 15, had pointed a gun at him and threatened to fire. Stamps essentially corroborated Phillips' story.
But Ivory left town before juvenile prosecutors could proceed with the case. Records indicate that he moved to Milwaukee, where he attended school before getting expelled. He returned to Phoenix in the summer of 1994 and enrolled at Metro Tech. But officials there removed him from the rolls in February 1995.
That month, Scottsdale police arrested Ivory on car-theft charges. It apparently was his first contact with law enforcement since returning to the Valley. Prosecutors soon resurrected the aggravated-assault case.
They asked that Ivory be tried as an adult, and issued subpoenas to Stamps and Phillips. Phillips testified at the March 1995 hearing before juvenile judge Barbara Mundell; Stamps ignored the summons.
"I saw an object," Phillips told the judge under oath, "[but] it could have been his fist, could have been anything. I was too far away from him."
A Phoenix detective testified that Phillips had said something quite different shortly after the clash, and speculated about the wildly variant stories.
"He appeared to be in fear," detective David Otanez testified. "The fear would be based upon retaliation by the suspect."
Mundell asked why the other alleged victim, Stamps, wasn't present to testify.
"He did receive a subpoena," a prosecutor replied. "My belief is he probably has a warrant out for his arrest."
Despite the problems with the case, Judge Mundell bound over Lynn Ivory to Superior Court. Records show Ivory stayed behind bars for two months, then was released in May into the custody of a family member.
"Lynn was always polite and respectful to me," says his attorney, Kim O'Connor. "But what the Glendale police have told me is that Lynn was doing armed robberies with the, quote, victims of the aggravated assault...."
Last month, prosecutor Deborah Schumacher tendered her "final" plea offer: Ivory would plead guilty to one count each of aggravated assault. In return Schumacher wouldn't oppose the lightest sentence possible under law--about three years in prison.
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O'Connor rejected that proposal in a February 28 letter: "Neither victim wants to prosecute, which puts the State in a difficult position."
Ivory's death has turned his alleged victims into alleged murderers.
"Mr. Ivory was beaten so badly that identification was difficult," says Glendale police officer Jim Toomey. "The investigation led us to the people we arrested."
Toomey didn't know that two of the murder suspects had once been crime "victims."
"I wasn't aware of the twist until now," he says. "This is a strange one.