A Long Beach man who spent more than two decades behind bars for a murder he did not commit filed suit today in federal court against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and more than a dozen of its deputies for allegedly conspiring to frame him by suppressing evidence and fabricating eyewitness accounts.
Alexander Torres—who was found guilty in 2001 of second-degree murder—was serving a 40-year-to-life state prison sentence for the New Year’s Eve 2000 slaying of a gang member in Paramount when his sentence was vacated a year ago and he was set free. After a review of the case, a judge found Torres factually innocent, concluding that a series of missteps had led to his arrest and wrongful conviction.
According to the complaint for civil rights violations, deputies “decided to frame Torres and fabricated eyewitness identifications to convict him” of the slaying of Martin “Casper” Guitron, who was shot eight times while walking with a friend.
An LASD spokesman said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
The plaintiff’s attorneys allege that when LASD homicide detectives could develop no clear suspect for the shooting and eyewitnesses offered little help, “they decided to invent a suspect themselves and make the evidence implicate that suspect,” according to the suit.
The detectives focused on Torres first because, in their view, Torres had a history of conflict with the victim and was affiliated with a rival gang, lawyers for Torres allege.
The detectives allegedly “decided that Torres was a good enough suspect and decided to manufacture evidence to convict him of Guitron’s murder,” the lawsuit says. The investigators were assisted by fellow deputies “in their efforts to prosecute Torres for the Guitron homicide, despite the fact that they had no evidence of his guilt,” the plaintiff’s attorneys allege.
“In agreeing to falsely initiate Torres’ prosecution, the Defendant Officers determined that they would not conduct a legitimate, honest investigation of the shooting but would, instead, focus their efforts on obtaining Torres’ wrongful conviction,” according to the suit, which was obtained by City News Service.
In a motion seeking a factual innocence finding for Torres, prosecutors agreed that “there is not a single reliable or credible piece of evidence that Torres committed the crime for which he was convicted and served over 20 years in prison. The parties further agree Torres has shown he is actually innocent of this crime by a preponderance of the evidence.”
The motion indicates that LASD detectives are now convinced that two others are the true perpetrators.
In a statement posted on their website about the case, the California Innocence Project noted that Torres—who was 20 at the time—lived in the territory of the gang to which Guitron belonged and that the two had a “prolonged, well-known adversarial history” and that gang members had “subjected Torres and his family to an ongoing intimidation campaign to drive them out of the neighborhood.”
The California Innocence Project’s statement indicates that the alleged gunman “very closely resembles Torres in age, height, weight and overall physical appearance.”
The lawsuit says that as a result of the deputies’ alleged misconduct, Torres, now 42, suffered sustained injuries, including physical injury and sickness, and emotional pain and suffering. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
In a statement released by his office in June, L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón said, “While it is this office’s job to hold people accountable for the harm they cause, it is equally important that we critically re-examine past convictions. We must be willing to own up to past errors, determine what went wrong and make sure we do not repeat those mistakes.”
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