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LAPD trial starts with attacks on former officer Perez
LOS ANGELES, California -- (CNN) -- The trial of four Los Angeles police officers linked to the largest police corruption scandal in the city's history opened with sharp attacks on the prosecution's key witness: disgraced former officer Rafael Perez.
Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor took the unusual step of allowing attorneys for both sides to make statements Wednesday to prospective jurors before beginning jury selection.
Prospective jurors filled out questionaires, which attorneys will review Thursday and Friday. The trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday and is expected to last about a month.
Sgt. Edward Ortiz and officers Brian Liddy, Paul Harper and Michael Buchanan are accused of planting evidence, filing false reports and lying under oath to put gang members behind bars for crimes they did not commit.
Testimony is expected to come from Perez, who agreed to testify about alleged police misconduct in exchange for a lenient sentence for stealing six pounds of cocaine from a police evidence locker. More than 100 convictions have been reversed because of Perez's statements and thousands more are under review.
Attorneys for the defendants used Wednesday's statements to challenge Perez's credibility.
"He was no more than a street thug in a police uniform, the likes of which this city has never seen before," said Barry Levin, who represents Ortiz. "His coldness, his callousness, his evil knew no bounds."
At one point, defense attorney Joel Issacson showed the potential jurors a five-foot tall poster of Perez allegedly dressed in gang colors and flashing a gang sign with his hand.
"This is not the trial of Rafael Perez, this is the trial of four officers who worked with Rafael Perez," said Deputy District Attorney Laura Laesecke, the only time she mentioned Perez. "I want you to ask yourself, does anyone deserved to be framed?"
Defense attorney Harland Braun told potential jurors that Perez admitted that he and his former partner, Nino Durden, shot unarmed gang member Javier Ovando and then framed him to cover up the shooting. Darden is charged with attempted murder in the shooting, which left Ovando paralyzed for life.
Braun told the jury pool he would call a witness who would testify that Perez killed a young man and his mother, then dumped the bodies in a Tijiuana, Mexico landfill. "This is the kind of human being testifying against these officers," Braun said. Murmurs from the potential jurors filled the courtroom.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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