Immunity demands may bar key LAPD witness

The Associated Press
Friday October 13, 2000

LOS ANGELES — Disgraced police officer Rafael Perez may be eliminated as the star witness in the Rampart police corruption trial if he persists in demanding immunity from prosecution for three murders in which he is a suspect, a lawyer said late Thursday. 

The development came the night before testimony was to begin against four officers implicated by Perez in the scandal that has rocked the Los Angeles Police Department over the past year. 

Perez, who has an immunity agreement for an assortment of crimes, claims the agreement should extend to the murders recently alleged by his former lover, Sonia Flores, defense attorney Harland Braun said. Flores has sent authorities scurrying to Mexico to excavate a trash dump where she claims the bodies were buried by Perez and his partner. 

No bodies have been found so far, but Braun said the murder allegations are a key element of the planned defense attack on Perez’s credibility as a witness. 

“If Perez won’t testify about that, then he has to be removed from the case,” Braun said. “We will object to his testifying at all because he can’t be cross-examined ... From our point of view, this means he’s no longer in the case.” 

Perez’s lawyer, Winston Kevin McKesson, did not immediately answer a telephone message left at his office. But Braun said he conferred with McKesson late Thursday and that the attorney told him he felt Perez’s plea agreement with the district attorney’s office was “ambiguous” in relation to the murders. 

The matter was expected to be raised Friday morning when lawyers appear in Los Angeles County Superior Court for the scheduled start of opening statements and testimony in the four officers’ trial. 

Braun said he had just learned that Perez invoked Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination during testimony in a police Board of Rights hearing for another man on Oct. 4. 

“Perez was asked about the murders and said he wouldn’t discuss it without immunity,” Braun said. 

He said prosecutors told him as late as Thursday they did not know whether Perez would invoke the Fifth Amendment in the current trial. 

District Attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said the office would not comment on the latest development. She referred reporters to Perez’s plea agreement signed on Sept. 8, 1999. 

The document said Perez’s leniency agreement is based on his representations “that he has not been involved in any criminal use-of-force activity which has resulted in the death of any person...”