Judge rejects bid to free man convicted in dismemberment killing
A Superior Court judge rejected a habeas corpus case of a convicted murderer Tuesday, saying he was not convinced that the petitioner had nothing to do with the brutal 1995 killing of a Canyon Country man.
Judge Gregory A. Dohi listed reasons why testimony given during earlier hearings in the case — including the recantation by a key witness — failed to persuade him that Edward Contreras was not involved with the beating, beheading and dismemberment of Frederick Walker.
Contreras, now 40, was convicted in 1997 along with Scott Taylor of killing Walker at a backyard barbecue and stealing $635 that Walker was carrying.
"People under stress do weird things," said Dohi, addressing Contreras’ attorney, who had suggested Contreras' actions after the murder were a result of Stockholm syndrome, in which a person held against his will feels he must side with his captor.
Dohi recalled testimony that Contreras and Taylor had been play-fighting over a large wad of money days after the murder.
"I can’t attribute [his actions] to post-traumatic stress disorder or Stockholm syndrome," Dohi said.
The California Innocence Project, which took on the case in 2009, argued that Lisa Garringer, the key witness who later recanted, saw the questioning by sheriff’s investigators as "intimidating and coercion."
Dohi said he believed Garringer was a credible witness but also said she was "maddeningly inconsistent about what the investigators did" to get her to give her original testimony that implicated Contreras.
Michelle Dresser, Walker’s sister, held her face in her hands after the ruling was delivered, releasing years of tension in her sobs.
"I feel for his family," she said. "But he is where he needs to be."
-- Dalina Castellanos
Photo: Edward Contreras, seen here being escorted to the courtroom for a hearing last month, will remain in prison. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times