Jurors were to begin deliberations in the murder trial of Edward Arch when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Harvey Giss granted a defense request to dismiss the case because of a lack of evidence, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
Arch was 19 at the time of his 2007 arrest. He confessed after a 90-minute interrogation by police to the death of a man who was shot following a dispute with a group of men in North Hills.
The judge found that officers broke interrogation rules, including wrongly promising Arch that he would receive leniency if he confessed.
"I've been a criminal defense attorney for over 35 years and handled well over a hundred murder cases, and I've never had a judge grant a motion like this," Arch's attorney, James Goldstein, told the Times. "I don't believe it was the officers' intent to extract a false confession, but the tactics they used greatly increased the risk of that occurring."
The victim was chased down by at least two men from the group and shot multiple times at close range. The detectives told Arch they had eyewitnesses implicated him being in the car that chased down the victim.
Two other suspects had also implicated him, the detectives told him.
"It's not the question of whether you were in that car or not," one detective said, according to a transcript of the interview reviewed by the Times. "The question is, what led up to this guy getting shot?"
Arch, who had no serious criminal history, responded by calling the witnesses "liars."
He acknowledged that he knew the two other men whom police suspected of being involved in the killing. He also repeatedly said he had nothing to do with the killing and hadn't been in the car.
He remained insistent that he had been in his aunt's house playing video games when the men drove off, and offered to take a lie detector test.
The judge determined detectives wrongly led Arch along by telling him what they believe occurred. One detective detailed for Arch how he thought the chase and the shooting occurred as he tried to get the teen to admit he had been in the car.
"You're either a witness or you're a defendant," Arch was told, according to the transcript. "You were either in the car when you saw the murder go down and you didn't know anything about it or you were part of it. And if you were part of it ... we're all going to be able to prove premeditated murder."
Goldstein told the newspaper the detectives had gone too far.
"Basically, they were telling him he could walk out that door if he admitted he was involved," Goldstein said.
As soon as Gutierrez gave Arch the choice of being a "witness" or a "defendant," Arch changed his story dramatically, saying he had, in fact, been in the car with one of the other suspects.
A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office refused to comment on the case, saying a co-defendant is still to stand trial in the case.
Two of the detectives who interrogated Arch, Gene Parshall and Efren Gutierrez, did not respond to calls by the Times seeking comment. A third detective, John Macchiarella, said he "disagreed with the judge's decision."
The Times said Arch likely would have been sentenced to life in prison had the jury in the case convicted him.
Arch, whose whereabouts were unknown, could not be reached for comment.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com