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Lorenzo Nava

Summary of Rampart Scandal
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Lorenzo Nava was one of approximately 170 men and women wrongfully convicted because of misconduct uncovered in an investigation into the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart division.

Officers Brian Liddy and Paul Harper arrested the 36-year-old Nava on March 5, 1996. At a preliminary hearing on March 19, Harper testified that he and Liddy came upon several people in a parking lot. As they approached from two sides, Nava ran toward Harper, and then turned and ran toward a dumpster. Harper said he saw Nava throw a bag in the dumpster and a pill bottle onto a nearby rooftop. A .357 gun was found in the bag, and the bottle was found to contain cocaine.

Nava, who had two previous felony convictions, was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon and possession for sale of rock cocaine.

Nava proclaimed his innocence. He said that he hadn’t possessed the drugs or the gun and that the officers framed him. He filed a motion seeking discovery of any complaints alleging misconduct against the officers. His attorney was told that there weren’t any such complaints against either officer. Nava’s trial in Superior Court of Los Angeles County began on February 20, 1997. Harper and Liddy both testified. Liddy said he saw Nava run, throw a bag into a dumpster, and then pull off a pair of gloves before tossing the pill bottle. He said that Nava said, “You ain’t putting that gun on me.”

Harper gave similar testimony. Both officers said that Nava was wearing gloves, which they said explained why there were no fingerprints on the gun. At least one glove was recovered at the crime scene.

Nava did not testify, but three witness with him that night testified that Nava was not wearing gloves and did not get rid of a bag with a gun or a pill bottle of cocaine. One witness, Frank Delgarza, said the gun was his. He had hidden it in the dumpster because he wanted it close by and that he never let Nava touch it.

The jury convicted Nava on February 27, 1997. Because this was his so-called “third strike,” he was sentenced to 54 years to life in prison, although that sentence was later reduced to 29 years to life.

On August 17, 1998, Officer Rafael Perez of the Los Angeles Police Department was charged with theft, possession of cocaine, and forgery. The jury deadlocked at his trial (with a majority voting for conviction) in December 1998. Police investigated further, and additional charges were filed against Perez.

Just before his retrial on September 8, 1999, Perez pled guilty to eight drug charges and struck a deal with prosecutors. In exchange for a sentence of no more than five years in prison, he would cooperate with an investigation into the Rampart operations.

Nava’s case never came up during Perez’s meetings with investigators, but he did say that Harper and Liddy had committed extensive misconduct in several cases that ended in wrongful convictions. According to Perez, the misconduct included planting evidence, falsifying reports, and perjury.

Harper, Liddy and Sgt. Edwardo Ortiz were arrested on April 24, 2000, and charged with obstruction of justice in connection with the alleged misconduct described by Perez.

On May 16, 2000, Nava filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Superior Court of Los Angeles County. He said that the alleged misconduct of Harper and Liddy – some of which was said to have taken place a month after Nava’s arrest – was exculpatory evidence that undermined the officers’ credibility as witnesses.

“Obviously, the jurors would have had a reasonable doubt regarding the Petitioner's guilt had they been informed that officers Liddy and Harper had falsely placed a gun on another defendant under the same circumstances a month after this incident, and that the officers were part of a specialized team that had falsified numerous other arrest reports,” the petition said.

Prosecutors opposed granting Nava’s writ. At the time, they had acted on behalf of other defendants to vacate convictions, but they said there was no independent proof that the officers falsely arrested and testified against Nava. The fact that the officers might have done so in other cases wasn’t sufficient.

“The newly discovered evidence relating to former LAPD Officers Liddy and Harper does not by itself undermine the entire prosecution's case and unerringly point to the innocence of Nava. Therefore, Nava has failed to plead facts sufficient to warrant habeas corpus relief,” prosecutors wrote.

Nava’s writ was granted on October 4, 2000. His charges were dismissed, and he was released from prison.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 12/11/2020
Last Updated: 12/11/2020
State:California
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Gun Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1996
Convicted:1997
Exonerated:2000
Sentence:54 to life
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:36
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No