Martha Puebla is dead.
She was murdered as she sat on her front porch in Sun Valley, California.
Why was she murdered?
"You got the wrong person, buddy," Ledesma said.
"OK. I don't agree with you, and I have the evidence to prove it," Pinner said. "I have multiple witnesses who are going to testify that you were the shooter."
Pinner told Ledesma he knew the gang member had been on his way to Martha Puebla's house to visit her the night Vargas was killed outside her house.
To drive home his point, Pinner laid down a "six-pack" — an array of mug shots that detectives often show to witnesses or victims of crimes. On it, Ledesma's photo was circled, and the initials "M.P." were written below it. "Those is the guy that shot my friends boyfriend" was scrawled along the margin, followed by Puebla's signature.
"I don't even know a Martha," Ledesma lied.
Pinner kept trying, pressing Ledesma about Puebla and the information he said she had given up. At one point he asked Rodriguez for a photo of the girl to show Ledesma. Nothing worked. Ledesma insisted he did not know her.
"Well, she knows you," the detective said.
This was legal, at least as to the suspect. Cops can lie to people when they interrogate them. But it wasn't true. Puebla hadn't helped them. The six-pack was forged, faked to create an impression on the suspect Ledesma.
Ledesma called his fellow gang members from jail and asked them to kill Puebla.
The next night, Ledesma reached for a pay phone outside his cell. "Cokester," he said into the receiver, calling his friend Javier Covarrubias by one of his gang monikers, "do you know the slut that lives there by . . . my house? Her name starts with an M . . . I need her to disappear. She is dropping dimes."
To the gang, Puebla was a snitch and needed to be dealt with.
"Uh huh, like that," Ledesma told Covarrubias, using a mix of Spanish and English. "But [keep a] low-pro[file]. . . . Stay on your toes, homie. And don't get caught."
This call, like all calls out of the jail, was recorded. The detectives could have listened to it at any time.
Not that this mattered.
The jail-cell recording, Pinner said in sworn testimony, was badly transcribed twice by an outside company used by the LAPD. Its contents remained unknown until January 2005, when during preparation for Ledesma's trial for Vargas' slaying — more than two years after the recording was made — Spanish-speaking LAPD officers listened to it and learned of the order to kill the girl, Pinner testified.
So Detectives Martin Pinner and Juan Rodriguez told a suspected killer and known gang member that Martha Puebla was a witness against him in a murder case. They didn't listen to the tapes of his subsequent phone calls. And it appears that they didn't tell Martha:
But Puebla's parents, who have recently filed a civil lawsuit against the detectives and the LAPD, said in an interview that no one from the LAPD ever warned their daughter that she might be in danger. And a detailed log the detectives kept of their investigation shows no indication that they had contact with Puebla or her parents after they used the girl to bait Ledesma during the interrogation.
Later Pinner and Rodriguez — the same detectives who set in motion the chain of events that led to Martha Puebla's death — arrested someone for her killing. Once again, they lied to him about the evidence against him. Once again, it didn't turn out right.
Before federal prosecutors and the LAPD sorted out Puebla's murder, however, Pinner and Rodriguez had arrested an innocent man in connection with Puebla's slaying. Based on bad information from sources, the detectives pinned the slaying on Juan Catalan — Mario Catalan's brother. Juan Catalan sat in jail for five months awaiting trial until his lawyer turned up video footage showing Catalan was at a Dodgers game at the time of the shooting. A judge threw out the case, and Catalan was awarded $320,000 in a wrongful-arrest suit.
The day the detectives arrested Juan Catalan, they thought they had the right man. They brought him into an interview room in the same North Hollywood station where they had grilled Ledesma nine months before. Once again they switched on a recorder. Catalan begged the detectives to believe him, that he had nothing to do with Puebla's death. He asked to take a lie-detector test.
But Pinner and Rodriguez weren't having any of it. Pinner told Catalan that people had seen him shoot the girl. He pushed three six-packs in front of him. His picture was circled. Witnesses had signed their names.
They were all fake. But Catalan, of course, didn't know that.
"You see," Rodriguez told Catalan, "the pictures don't lie."
Pinner, Rodriguez, and the LAPD may not be legally responsible for Martha Puebla's death.
But they are morally responsible.
I wonder if they care?
Their story illustrates an unfashionable and unpopular point in post-9/11, cop-worshiping America: the fact that someone wears a badge does not mean that he's responsible, reasonable, or decent. It doesn't mean that he's your friend.
Edited to add: Welcome, Reddit followers. If you liked this, you might like other posts under the Cops tag.
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