In January 1990, two men armed with pistols robbed employees of a gas station in Escondido, California. Ten minutes later, two men fitting the same description—one tall and the other short—robbed a pizza shop in Vista, California. The total take in both robberies was $130.
Police said that they received an anonymous tip that one of the robbers was 17-year-old Kenya Hunt of Oceanside, California and discovered that Hunt’s photo was in police files. At the time, Hunt was a promising baseball player and had been drafted by the Montreal Expos baseball team. He was looking forward to a playing baseball at Palomar College.
Sometime earlier, a shooting in Oceanside had been linked to a man driving Ford Mustang. Oceanside police stopped Hunt because he was driving a Mustang. Although he was not involved and the man believed responsible for the shooting was found, police took Hunt’s photograph, which went into a police file.
His photograph was put into a photographic lineup and witnesses from both robberies identified him, police said. Hunt was 6 feet, five inches tall—which fit the description of one of the robbers. Hunt was then arrested.
At trial in San Diego County Superior Court, witnesses said he was one of the two robbers. The defense contended the identifications were tainted because when the witnesses viewed the photo lineup, Hunt’s picture had a different background than the other photos in the lineup. The witnesses then identified Hunt in a live lineup. The defense argued that lineup was suggestive as well because Hunt was the only one in it whose picture had been in the photo lineups.
Family and friends, including his baseball coach, testified that Hunt had a good character and that at the time of the robberies he was at home sleeping after an arduous baseball practice.
The defense also called a jail inmate who had contacted the defense just prior to the trial to provide the name of a man whom the inmate said was the taller of the two robbers and was boasting of having committed the crimes.
On August 28, 1991, Hunt was convicted by the jury of both crimes—two counts of armed robbery—and he was immediately taken into custody.
Prior to sentencing, the defense continued to investigate the claim of the jail inmate that someone else had committed the crime.
A defense investigator went to the other suspect’s apartment in Escondido and although the man was not there, the apartment building manager’s description of him and his car matched the descriptions of the robbery victims.
The investigator tracked down a relative of the suspect, who said that the man by then had been arrested for another robbery.
The defense took that information to the San Diego County District Attorney’s office, which began its own investigation. The prosecution’s investigation determined that there was no anonymous tipster. The prosecution said Hunt’s photo had been put into the photo lineup by mistake.
On September 26, 1991, two days before Hunt was to be sentenced for up to 14 years in prison, the charges were dismissed and he was released.
Hunt, who spent 29 days in jail before he was released, went on to play minor league baseball for a brief period of time and later became the owner of a moving company in Oceanside. He was murdered in a drive-by shooting in 2007.
– Maurice Possley