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Mexican authorities dig for alleged victims of Rafael Perez
Police corruption trial underway in L.A.
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Law enforcement officials in Mexico began digging Friday in search of the alleged victims of former Los Angeles police officer Rafael Perez, as a trial against four police officers charged in a widespread corruption scandal got under way in Los Angeles.
Their chief accuser is Perez, who agreed to testify about alleged officer misconduct in the LAPD anti-gang units in exchange for a lenient sentence for stealing six pounds of cocaine from the police evidence locker. Under the plea agreement, Perez could be a free man next year.
A former girlfriend of Perez alleges he and his former partner killed three people and dumped their bodies in Tijuana. An attorney for Perez said his client denies the allegations.
Sonia Flores led law enforcement to the trash-strewn ravine last weekend. Friday, Mexican officials dug four meters of earth from the bottom of the culvert. No bodies were found.
Opening statements in Los Angeles
In Los Angeles, opening statements began in the corruption trial with a prosecutor telling jurors the four officers "conspired to obstruct justice and framed innocent people and covered up their crimes."
"This is not a trial of Rafael Perez. No matter what you have heard, he is not on trial here," Deputy District Attorney Laura Laesecke told jurors.
But defense attorneys wasted no time in attacking Perez' credibility as a witness against their clients.
Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor asked prosecutors if they could say they would call Perez as a witness. Deputy District Attorney Anne Ingalls said "no, I cannot." Defense attorneys said if Perez is called as a witness against Sgt. Edward Ortiz, Sgt. Brian Liddy or Officers Paul Harper or Michael Buchanan, they will ask him about the alleged murders.
Perez's attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, said his client won't testify about the Tijuana allegations unless he is granted immunity from prosecution. District Attorney spokeswoman Victoria Pipkin said "there is no way" Perez will be given an immunity agreement.
Defense to request a ban on Perez testimony
Joel Issacson, the attorney for Paul Harper, said if Perez does take the stand to testify against the four officers, but refuses to answer questions about the alleged murders by taking the fifth so he doesn't incriminate himself, defense attorneys will ask to bar all of Perez's testimony.
"A person gets on the stand and says 'I say x, y, z happened'... tells that for the D.A ... then when the defense lawyers get up he says 'I'm not talking.' Well that's half of a trial, half of a witness, so that's a problem," Issacson said.
He added that if Perez invokes the fifth amendment on the witness stand, he believes it would be an automatic mistrial or dismissal of the case against the four LAPD officers.
Perez' attorney wants immunity for his client in connection with the alleged Tijuana murders either included in the current immunity agreement or made to be part of a new agreement.
Appeals court intercedes in LAPD corruption trial
Department of Justice proposed consent decreeRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader
The Los Angeles Police Department
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