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Saving Ricky Tovar (page 2) 

He should have been in school. Instead, he was in jail. And it would take his family, friends and teachers a month to get him out.

Wednesday, Oct 21 1998
Legally, he said, he could not show them the police report until the witness's name had been removed, and he refused to hand over any documents until a new attorney was assigned.)

Each Sunday, Salvador and Carolina would visit their son, and each time Salvador's feelings of powerlessness worsened. He noticed subtle changes in Ricky's manner - prison slang had worked its way into his speech, and he was holding his head differently, tilting it to the side to avoid direct eye contact. "I could see Ricky a slipping away from me," he says. "Right in front of my eyes."

Finally, on Wednesday, September 9, the second court date arrived. Again the group assembled early - Salvador, Carolina, Marcy, Robert, his girlfriend, a neighbor and Matt Spengler, one of Ricky's teachers - only to sit for hours in the long, dingy corridor. Every few minutes a man in a dark suit would emerge from a courtroom and call out a name. Sometimes someone would respond, stand up and make his way toward the open courtroom door. More often there was no response, and the man would try again, every 15 minutes or so, with no answer.

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Hours went by. The Tovars' attorney did not appear, and the man did not call Ricky's name. A little girl who had wandered away from her mother picked up a dirty lollipop stick lying on the floor and stuck it in her mouth.

Shortly before noon, a man with silvery hair and glasses approached and introduced himself as Antonio Govea, their court-appointed attorney. He apologized for being late. Salvador and Carolina pulled out a fat folder and, standing in the courtroom hallway, began telling him about their son. "Let me show you what kind of a boy he is," Salvador said, slowly paging through the stack of certificates - awards for community leadership, punctuality, attendance, successful completion of the DARE program, and more. Then, "Let me show you what kind of parents he has." And Salvador opened two vinyl-covered booklets to reveal statements of U.S. citizenship for himself and Carolina.

Govea listened to the presentation. Later he would say that the Tovars took him by surprise. "Right away I could see that Salvador was very - " he pauses, restarts. "There's a certain sense about him, a weight and a seriousness." Govea went into the courtroom. Carolina crossed herself and bowed her head. Then she and Salvador followed. A few moments later, the courtroom door opened and Salvador and Carolina reappeared, blinking and swaying slightly as if emerging from a darkened theater. They stood outside the door, silent for a full minute. Then they leaned into each other and made their way the few steps to the hard bench. The family looked at Salvador expectantly. "I'm not sure what happened," he admitted finally. "He put his arm around Rick. At least he cares."

Govea reappeared. Grasping for control, Salvador asked to see the police report. Without pausing, Govea pulled the report from his files and began reading it aloud. As it turned out, the family already knew most of the content, but Govea's willingness to share the information put Salvador more at ease.

When Govea finished reading the report, he looked at the gathered family. "I need time to prepare the case," he said. The next court date was set, he told them, for October 2 - almost a month away. Because of the change in attorneys, the decision about whether Ricky would be tried as a juvenile or an adult would have to wait until then. In the meantime, Govea would try to get a live lineup for the witness.

Salvador slumped. Carolina shook her head in disbelief. Salvador began to talk about Ricky. He showed Govea his report card, told him Ricky had an alibi. Then the family launched into a detailed account of Ricky's whereabouts the day of the crime, and Govea perked up. "It's less than 1 percent where you would see that," Govea would say later. "Normally they can't account for the kid. They don't know where he was, and they don't have anybody reliable who knows where he was."

Govea promised to see what he could do, and turned to walk away. "What about school?" someone asked. It was Matt Spengler, coordinator of Jefferson's Early College Academy, a program Ricky was actively involved in. "This semester is crucial. It's the last one used for college admissions, and if Ricky isn't in school, it's really going to hurt his chances. Can't you get him out until the trial? He's got to go to school."

Govea paused. In all the hundreds of cases he had handled at Eastlake, he had never asked for the release of a juvenile charged with a violent felony. But Ricky seemed different. "There was nothing about him that appeared 'gang,'" Govea says now. "He didn't have the tattoos or the attitude." The crime, he says, "was the antithesis of Ricky's personality." He tapped his lip with his pen. "I'm going to talk to the D.A.," he told the Tovars. "Maybe we can get the judge to let him out. So he can go to school." He promised to call, and disappeared. The family was ecstatic. It was the first good news in a long time.

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