In March 2000, a woman spotted 18-year-old Richard Perez walking to get lunch at a fast food restaurant in Santa Ana, California and told police that he robbed her at knifepoint earlier in the year.
The woman told police that Perez confronted her in her apartment carport and took off with some distinctive Mexican jewelry.
Perez, a sales assistant at a technology company who also worked part-time in his uncle’s flower shop, was arrested and charged with armed robbery in July 2000 after the woman identified him in a line up. At his home, police found a New York Yankees baseball cap and a dark windbreaker—clothing that the woman said her assailant was wearing. They also confiscated some heroin.
In the fall, while Perez was awaiting trial in Orange County Superior Court, his mother, Martha, read a newspaper article about the arrest of Eduardo Guzman on charges of a series of rapes and robberies in Orange County. In all of the attacks, Guzman was alleged to have been armed with a knife.
Martha Perez noticed that Guzman and her son had similar light complexions, bushy eyebrows, and neatly trimmed mustaches. She also realized that the circumstances of the charge against her son—a man on foot with a knife—were similar to the crimes allegedly committed by Guzman.
Richard Perez went on trial before a jury in January 2001.
The woman identified Perez as the robber. The defense sought to bring in evidence of Guzman’s attacks, but the trial judge refused without a basis stronger than Martha Perez’s suspicion.
The jury convicted him on January 26, 2001. While awaiting sentencing, Martha Perez hired a new lawyer, Edward Munoz, who read the police reports of the cases against Guzman and discovered that Guzman was accused of giving some of the jewelry he stole in his robberies to some of his friends.
Munoz’s investigator, Larry Magdaleno, tracked down Guzman’s former girlfriend and paid her a visit. Magdaleno explained his suspicion that Perez had been wrongly convicted and persuaded her to show him jewelry that came from Guzman.
She brought out a silver Aztec calendar medallion that she said she had gotten from her sister, who had been given the medallion by Guzman. The medallion had a name etched on the back—that of the woman who had accused Perez of robbing her.
The victim later identified it as the item taken when she was robbed.
Munoz filed a motion for a new trial, citing the new evidence. On October 19, 2001, Superior Court Judge Richard F. Toohey set aside the conviction.
On November 9, 2001, the charges were dismissed. In December 2001, the judge found that Perez qualified for a juvenile disposition on the heroin and he was sentenced to time served.
In 2002, Guzman pleaded guilty to four rapes and five attempted rapes. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
– Maurice Possley