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Then Gonzalez asked the obvious question: Why all this law-enforcement response over one laptop?
The detectives finally showed him a videotape of a man who they said was him, walking down a sidewalk. Then they told him about Libia Cabreras murder. Seymour laid out his whole scenario: Gonzalez was the man in the video. Dreamer was driving the white truck. Seymour added that he believed Dreamer murdered Cabrera and that Gonzalez simply took the laptop.
Gonzalez denied that he knew anything about the laptop or the murder. He acknowledged knowing Dreamer, but only because he is his cousin. He told the detectives he had never been to Manhattan Beach and begged them to give him a lie-detector test: I know Im telling you the truth, and I want you to know it too.
After rejecting his plea, Seymour and Gallagher just repeated the same points over and over: We know you took the laptop, because we know thats you in the video carrying it. Everyone knows thats you in the video. Dont worry about going down for the murder, cause we know Dreamer did that.
Gradually, in his sick and fevered state of mind, Gonzalez began to flash back to stories he had heard around the family dinner table about the old days in El Salvador. He had heard the adults talk about friends who disappeared forever after they argued with the police. Sometimes, he heard them say solemnly, You just had to go along with whatever the police said if you wanted to stay alive and protect your family.
So he made a fateful decision. I started thinking I should just cooperate with these officers. Maybe theyll have pity on me. I have nothing to hide, he said. I trust in God and God will not allow anything bad to happen.
Reluctantly, grudgingly, in one- or two-word answers, he began to agree with whatever Seymour and Gallagher said about him carrying the laptop on the sidewalk, although he continued to deny ever setting foot inside the house.
Later Seymour would admit that he had shown Gonzalez the flier and the video during the period before the taping started. But he also said that Gonzalez quickly admitted that was him on the flier and, later, in the video. With no independent record of what happened before the recorder was turned on, the early portion of the interrogation process will always be in dispute. But L.A. Weekly obtained a copy of the 65-minute interrogation tape, and the recording reveals nuances and personal dynamics of the dialogue that are not reflected in the transcript. (See laweekly.com to listen to portions of the interrogation.)
The tape begins with Seymour stating his view of the final minutes of the unrecorded discussion that has just taken place. He talks in a low, authoritative yet compassionate voice, like a high school principal disciplining an unruly student who has disappointed him once too often.
Weve been talking for a little while, Seymour says, and weve been talking about the fact that youre on camera here. Okay? And, I think all of us believe that you didnt kill Libia, and I think all of us believe that she didnt deserve to die.
Not much later, Seymour says, If you ever watched TV, you know any cop shows or anything like that, you know that they advise people of their rights . . . He goes on to tell Gonzalez that his police statement wont be official until he agrees to it. Seymour then gives Gonzalez his Miranda rights and asks, Do you understand all that?
Gonzalez is not heard responding to Seymour on the tape.
The exchange later became the subject of a fierce legal dispute. Seymour testified that Gonzalez answered yes to his question about whether he understood his Miranda rights. But the transcript reads, No audible response, and Gonzalez testified he didnt say anything because he was confused about what Seymour was talking about.
A close, repeated listen to the tape reveals two seconds of total silence following Seymours question. The silence is broken by Seymour whispering Okay, then resuming the interrogation.
Seymour shows Gonzalez the video, walking him through the murder scenario the detectives have worked out.
Seymour later testified that he was bluffing Gonzalez at this point, hoping his suspect would think the detectives had video of him inside the house where Cabrera was murdered. The detective testified that Gonzalez panicked and couldnt face the prospect of seeing himself at the crime scene. But the audio tape reveals an alternative explanation for his sudden change in demeanor: Gonzalez, now being called brother and man by Seymour in a deep, soulful voice oozing empathy, simply cant go along with the detectives scenario anymore. Gonzalezs voice sinks to a growling half-sob as he tries to explain how sorry he is that he cant keep lying. But Seymour is fixated on the idea that his video bluff is the real cause of the sudden change in Gonzalezs demeanor.