At around midnight on January 11, 1991, Ruies Lopez was in his truck on Aster Street in Escondido, California when two men pulled him from the truck, beat him and took his wallet containing $120.
David Sanchez, a witness who saw the incident from the window of a nearby apartment building, identified 18-year-old Willie Robles as one of the robbers. Robles was arrested on January 12, 1991.
Two days later, Miguel Verdin went to police and said he that he had committed the robbery alone and that Robles was not involved. Police accepted Verdin’s claim that he was involved, but not that he acted alone. Both Verdin and Robles were charged with robbery and assault.
During their trial in San Diego Superior Court, the primary evidence against them was Verdin’s confession and Sanchez’s identification of Robles. They were convicted by a jury on April 17, 1991.
Prior to sentencing, Robles obtained a new attorney who sent an investigator to look into Robles’s claim of innocence.
The investigator spoke to the landlord who rented the apartment where Sanchez lived with his wife, Juana. The landlord said that on the night of the crime, she was awakened by Juana screaming after seeing Lopez being beaten and robbed. The landlord said she heard Juana telling her husband what she saw. The couple had lived in the apartment for five years and the landlord knew that Sanchez had such poor eyesight that Juana had to read the newspaper to him.
The investigator located another witness, Humberto Castaneda, who said he looked out the window of his apartment when he heard screams and saw Lopez being beaten. Castaneda identified one of the robbers as a man from the neighborhood he knew as “Conchi,” and the other as Verdin. Castaneda said that Robles was “definitely” not involved.
Robles’s lawyer filed a motion for a new trial and the San Diego County District Attorney’s office joined in the motion. The verdict was set aside and the charges against Robles were dismissed on August 30, 1991. Verdin was sentenced to three years in prison.
– Maurice Possley