VAN NUYS (CBS) — A prisoner serving a life sentence for the dismemberment murder of a Santa Clarita man was convicted based on false testimony, a defense attorney alleged Wednesday.
The prosecution countered that there is no proof that key witnesses weren’t telling the truth.
Edward Contreras, 40, formerly of Mission Hills is serving life for the 1995 murder of Freddy Walker, who was beaten to death at a backyard barbecue, his body cut into pieces and dumped in nearby Bouquet Canyon.
Contreras and a former friend Scott Taylor were both found guilty of murder and lying in wait.
In a recent hearing, two key witnesses recanted testimony that helped convict Contreras of first-degree murder at his 1997 trial.
Defense attorneys are arguing before Judge Gregory A. Dohi that Contreras deserves a new trial as a result.
Attorney Mario G. Conte urged Dohi to grant the retrial in order to “let a jury hear all of this that no other jury has heard.”
Conte reminded the court that eyewitness Lisa Garringer had recently testified that Contreras did not kill Walker, although in her initial police interview, she said Contreras hit the victim in the head and helped dispose of the body.
Conte said Garringer had lied to investigators because she was terrified of Taylor and was “manipulated” by detectives into naming Contreras as an accomplice.
Taylor also testified previously that he acted alone, according to a transcript of his testimony that was shown in court today.
However, Deputy District Attorney Juan R. Mejia at the start of his argument for denial of a new trial for Contreras, said Garringer’s recantation “should be viewed with suspicion.”
Mejia told Dohi that Garringer has long held that investigators and prosecutors in the case had “acted illegally,” without showing proof.
Mejia also argued against a defense argument that held that homicidedetectives launched their murder investigation with a “two-person theory,” convinced that two men had to be responsible for Walker’s murder.
“It’s a stretch to believe that two very experienced homicide detectives” would begin an investigation with pre-conceived notions, Mejia said.
In the audience today was Bruce Lisker, who was released from prison in 2009 after spending more than 26 years behind bars for the murder of his mother.
Lisker, who was ultimately exonerated, has never met Contreras, but showed up at the habeas hearing to lend support.
“A possibly wrongfully convicted man is in custody,” Lisker said. “It touched a nerve. All these types of cases do.”
The hearing is set to continue Thursday.