At about 9 p.m. on December 27, 1989, Andre Marshall, a former “Crips” street gang member, was standing with his girlfriend, Laura Galvez, near the corner of 97th Street and Avalon Boulevard in Los Angeles when two men walked up and began firing pistols.
Marshall was shot twice in the head and once in the abdomen. Galvez, 20, said the men got into a white Cadillac and sped away. Marshall survived.
Police flooded the area immediately.
About a half hour later, police came to Galvez and said they had stopped a white Cadillac and wanted her to look at the five men who were inside. Two streets away, the men were lined up against a garage. As Galvez sat in a police car, an officer shined a light on the men’s faces. After about two minutes, Galvez selected the first two men in the line, Andre Taylor
, a construction worker, and Gerald Atlas, a grammar school teacher.
The two men were arrested and charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Taylor and Atlas went on trial before a jury in Los Angeles County Superior Court in May 1990.
Galvez gave conflicting testimony about where she was standing, what she saw and what happened. She had to be corrected by the prosecution several times when her testimony at trial contradicted her earlier testimony at the preliminary hearing.
The judge was concerned about Galvez’s demeanor—she was nodding off on the witness stand—and asked her if she had taken prescription pills or any other drugs. Galvez denied taking any drugs and said she was merely tired.
Galvez identified Atlas and Taylor as the gunmen, although she repeatedly said that she wasn’t paying attention and that the shooting happened extremely quickly. She also said she wasn’t paying attention to the Cadillac, but when she was shown a picture of Atlas’s Cadillac, she said, “I don’t know if that’s the car, but it looks exactly like it.”
Marshall testified that he didn’t know who the gunmen were and that he didn’t know if Atlas and Taylor were the men who shot him.
A police officer testified that when he responded to the call reporting the shooting, Galvez said there were four to five black men, about 17 to 22 years old, wearing dark clothing and driving a white Cadillac with tinted windows.
The officer drove west on 97th Street for four blocks and saw a white Cadillac parked on the street. The Cadillac pulled away and he followed it for one block, until it turned into a driveway. He then stopped the Cadillac, ordered the men out of the car. A search of the car produced no guns or contraband. The officer testified that Galvez identified Atlas and Taylor.
Atlas and Taylor testified that they arrived at a barbeque at about 4:30 p.m. and did not leave until they decided to go to a friend’s house to get some marijuana. They were stopped by police on the way. Taylor said that he knew Marshall, but they were not friends.
Witnesses who were at the barbeque confirmed that Atlas and Taylor had been there continuously and said they saw them leave in the Cadillac. Atlas said he had owned the car, which had tinted windows, for about two years.
On June 5, 1990, Taylor and Atlas were convicted of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Prior to sentencing, their attorneys filed a motion for a new trial alleging that they had discovered two witnesses who said Marshall had told them that he knew who shot him and that they weren’t Taylor or Atlas. The motion also argued that the defense had been unfairly prohibited from cross-examining Galvez about being on probation.
On December 14, 1990, the motion for new trial was granted. Atlas was able to post bond pending appeal and was released on December 21, 1990. Taylor remained in custody.
The prosecution appealed and on April 17, 1992, the California Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the newly discovered evidence was insignificant.
When the case returned to the trial court, lawyers for Atlas and Taylor filed a second motion for a new trial on the ground that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence. They argued that Galvez’s identification was so “replete with inconsistencies and retractions” that it was unbelievable.
On August 14, 1992, the trial judge granted the motion once more, saying that he believed the defendants were innocent. Again, the state appealed and on October 25, 1993, the Court of Appeal reversed again, ruling that the trial court had no jurisdiction to hear a second motion for new trial.
Taylor posted bond and was released in February 1994. On March 18, the judge suspended imposition of sentence on both counts and placed Atlas and Taylor on probation.
The state appealed a third time, and on August 9, 1994, the Court of Appeal acknowledged that the trial court judge believed Taylor and Atlas were “not guilty,” but ruled that the trial judge did not have the discretion to suspend the sentence and impose probation instead.
On May 19, 1995, Atlas and Taylor were each sentenced to 28 years to life.
Attorney Verna Wefald then took over the appeal. Before the appeal was argued in the Court of Appeal, she filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The petition reported the discovery of new evidence that Galvez had testified falsely at trial about her criminal past, and that the prosecution knew it.
During the trial, Galvez said she had never been convicted of a felony, but that she was on probation. When the defense sought to question her further, the prosecution interjected that the probation was for a juvenile case. As a result, the trial judge barred further cross-examination.
The petition, however, included copies of official records that showed that Galvez pled guilty to felony robbery in 1988 and was placed on probation, and that in May 1989 she was found to have violated her probation and was ordered jailed for 90 days.
The petition further claimed that in 1990—when the defendants filed their first motion for new trial, arguing that the defense was unfairly prohibited from probing Galvez on the matter—the prosecution stated that “there is no evidence that Laura Galvez had any felony convictions.”
In 1998, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Thomas Peterson granted the petition and ordered a new trial. The prosecution then dismissed the charges against both defendants.
In 2007, Atlas was shot and killed in Los Angeles.
– Maurice Possley