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Closing arguments leave questions

Convict seeking reduction of life sentence; judge postpones decision until after holidays

Posted: December 8, 2011 12:05 p.m.
Updated: December 8, 2011 12:05 p.m.

VAN NUYS - Convicted murderer Edward Contreras, hoping to walk out of prison a free man, will have to wait until after the holidays to hear his fate.

Contreras, serving a life sentence for the Santa Clarita Valley murder of Frederick Walker in 1995, was led handcuffed into Van Nuys Superior Court on Wednesday morning for closing arguments in his habeas corpus hearing.

Before lawyers delivered their final statements in a bid to reverse the conviction of the former Canyon Country resident, Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Dohi said he will deliver his decision after the holidays.

"I want to take my time and do it right," Dohi said.

In 1997, Contreras and Scott Taylor were found guilty of murdering Walker.

The victim was beaten to death at a barbecue at Taylor's mother's home in Santa Clarita, his body hacked to pieces and dumped in Bouquet Canyon.

Contreras is serving a life sentence and has remained in prison since 1997.

On Wednesday, Mario G. Conte, arguing that Contreras should be granted a new trial, answered a handful of key questions posed by the judge over the last several months of testimony intended to re-open the case.

One of the more persistent questions addressed was: Why did Contreras behave the way he did after the murder?
"What options did he have?" Conte asked in court. "Could he have run down the road? Could he have called 911? No. Instead, he chose to stay and placate Taylor until he could get out of there."

Contreras feared for his life, Conte said, having seen what Taylor did to Walker.

According to Conte, who works for the California Western School of Law in San Diego, homicide detectives operated on the theory that two people killed Walker.

Conte also argued detectives pressured two key witnesses - Lisa Garringer and Rosalyn Blaser - into implicating Contreras as the second man who carried out the murder with Taylor.

Garringer, who was present during the killing, testified at the habeas corpus hearing that Contreras had nothing to do with Walker's murder, contradicting her statements made during trial.

Conte sought to answer the related question: Why would detectives want to implicate Contreras?

The answer, he said, was to bolster their theory of two murderers.

Also addressed was: How did detectives get Garringer to implicate Contreras in her false testimony?

"Can you imagine what it was like for Lisa Garringer, to see and hear the murder of Freddie Walker at the age of 17?" Conte asked in a hushed voice. "She had to carry that with her for 16 years."

Garringer, after emerging rehabilitated from years of drug abuse, came forward to do the right thing when she recanted her testimony, he said.

Conte said Garringer and Blaser - both immigrants - were left with the unmistakable conclusion that they would either be charged in connection with the murder or forced from the country if they failed to implicate Contreras.

Deputy District Attorney Juan R. Mejia, however, argued Conte and the Innocence Project group advocating for Contreas' release from prison failed to prove the points they promised to make in arguing to have the case re-opened.

Mejia cited a dozen specific accusations made by the defense team in its petition to re-open the case that have the habeas corpus case heard which, after several months, have not proven.

At the cornerstone of his argument was the old legal adage: "Always treat recanted testimony with suspicion."

"They've changed their theory," Mejia said of the Contreras defense team. "You have to consider the declarations made in support of the petition, which set forward these strident claims."

"On page 17 of the petition, it's alleged detectives John Greenwood and Jon Jones got in touch with Rosalyn Blaser and told her she could get a life sentence for being an accomplice to murder. This was not proven," Mejia said.

"The petition says detectives told Lisa Garringer that in order for Scott Taylor to be convicted, Ed Contreras would also have to be convicted. This was not proven," he said.

"The petition says detectives told Lisa Garringer that she would either go home or be booked for murder along with Scott Taylor and Ed Contreras. Again, this was not proven," he said.





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