By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
After three hours of rhetorical rope-a-dope , Rosenberg was tired of waiting for the BIG question at the heart of the civil lawsuit. So he answered the question he thought the lawyer should have asked.
“Herbert Gonzalez is a murderer,” Rosenberg replied.
It was a pre-emptive strike, a defiant, damn-the-facts accusation, under oath, by a supervisor in the Homicide Bureau of the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. And it stunned John Burton, Gonzalez’s lawyer. Burton was conducting the deposition at his Pasadena law office as part of Gonzalez’s civil-rights lawsuit against two Sheriff’s detectives over his arrest three years ago for the rape and murder of Libia Cabrera in what came to be known as the Manhattan Beach Housekeeper Murder. The story of Gonzalez’s harrowing six-month journey inside the California justice system — and his narrow escape from death row — was first told by L.A. Weekly last year in the April 10 cover story “Bad Rap: Anatomy of a False Confession.”
“You’re sitting here saying Herbert Gonzalez is a murderer?” the normally low-key Burton shot back in disbelief.
Rosenberg, a 32-year veteran of the LASD, held firm: “Yeah. ... That’s what I believe.”
It was one more salvo in the LASD’s fervent but futile three-year campaign to pin the Housekeeper Murder on Gonzalez. The pressure has been so intense that Gonzalez now says his only hope to end the Get Herbie campaign is to get his civil case before a jury of his peers next month. He will tell the court his Hitchcockian tale of being the target of a wrong-man prosecution-turned-persecution by two dogged detectives and their supervisor, Rosenberg, who won’t admit they may have made a terrible mistake that turned a man’s life upside-down.
“Honestly, I don’t think they understand all the damage they did to me and my family,” Gonzalez says. “All the money in the world can’t fix what they did. But it would help heal the wounds a little faster.”
A series of rulings last week by Judge Florence-Marie Cooper rejected defense appeals to dismiss the case and cleared the way for a trial to start June 16 in federal court. As the clock ticks down toward what Gonzalez hopes will be his day of vindication, the LASD continues to search for any evidence that could tie him to the murder.
“They’re still following me,” says the rapper, now 29. “I see them wherever I go, at my job or at school. But it’s OK. I have nothing to hide.... I trust in God to see me through this ordeal. He got me out of jail when it looked like that would never happen.”
Starting with his wild, guns-drawn street arrest by a small platoon of undercover officers a block from his home, the Get Herbie campaign was effective. After his January 6, 2006, arrest and interrogation, his bail was set at $1 million. His family was tapped out because his mother had to take out a second mortgage to pay the $100,000 retainer required by the criminal-defense attorney she hired after his arrest. So Gonzalez was jailed for 165 days at the Twin Towers. Finally, at a July 2006 evidence-suppression hearing, an hour before his criminal trial was scheduled to start, a judge threw out Gonzalez’s interrogation statements. The state said it was unable to proceed without those statements — implicitly admitting it had no other evidence. A shocked Gonzalez walked out of the Torrance courthouse a free man, eternally grateful to a god who had listened to his daily prayers.
But there was someone else on his side that day: a judge who normally handles civil cases — who actually read all the documents in the case and listened to the interrogation recording before making any rulings. Judge Cary Nishimoto is not a part of the criminal-justice club — which often includes former prosecutors and which too often rules over a production line of presumed felons and born-to-be-bad guys. He admonished Rosenberg’s detectives on the case, Katharine Gallagher and Randy Seymour, for using coercive tactics to obtain a halting, confused and quickly retracted admission by Gonzalez to being on the sidewalk outside the murder house.
The Get Herbie campaign continued even when another man, 25-year-old Milton Gallardo, was charged with the Housekeeper Murder in October 2007 on the basis of a match to DNA on the victim. Gallardo gave a statement after his arrest claiming that he and the victim, who was married, were having an affair. He admitted that he was at the murder scene and said they had consensual sex that morning. But he insisted that she was fine when he left and that he did not rape or stab her or set her on fire.
At first, the arrest of Gallardo and the two men’s physical similarities seemed to indicate that the Gonzalez prosecution had simply been a case of mistaken identity. But the LASD has fought Gonzalez’s lawsuit at every step, even unsuccessfully requesting that the discovery process be halted by Judge Cooper.
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