Titus Brown

Los Angeles County, California
Date of Crime:  August 17, 1984

Titus Lee Brown, Jr. was convicted of the stabbing murder of Israel Guzman Rangel.  The murder occurred in a South-Central Los Angeles parking lot.  The chief prosecution witness was Ricardo Pimental Baldavinos.  Pimental testified that he saw Guzman being attacked by two men. Pimental drew his unloaded gun and approached the assailants in an attempt to scare them away. Presented with a series of photo lineups a few days later, he identified Brown as the killer. However, Pimental's identification was weak: The incident occurred at night; Pimental had never seen the assailant before; he only saw the assailant briefly, though his estimates of time varied from “a couple of seconds” to “five minutes”; he had been drinking earlier in the evening; he could not recall whether the assailant had facial hair; when first contacted by the police, Pimental denied any knowledge of the incident; and Pimental failed to identify Brown's photo when presented in a photo lineup at trial.

The prosecution argued that robbery was the motive behind the stabbing.  Although there was no eyewitness testimony that Guzman had been robbed, the prosecution offered the testimony of Detective J. D. Furr, a police officer who investigated the crime. Furr offered his expert opinion that Guzman had been killed during a robbery.  Furr testified that his opinion was based on an examination of the scene of the crime, a ring found on the ground, interviews with the victim's family, and the fact that the victim's wallet and gold chains, which Furr believed the victim had been wearing on the night he was killed, were not found.

Some days after the jury returned its verdict, the prosecutor revealed to the trial court that the victim's allegedly missing wallet and gold chains had been given to Guzman's next of kin by hospital personnel, who presumably had discovered them on Guzman's person. The prosecutor had known this fact before trial, but did not inform defense counsel. Nor did she inform Detective Furr, whose expert opinion rested on the absence of those items.  Given the lack of robbery as an apparent motive, it seems likely that Guzman's killer harbored some grievance against him.  Without evidence that Brown even knew Guzman much less had a grievance against him, it seems doubtful that a jury would have convicted him solely on Pimental's weak identification of Brown.

The trial court found that the prosecutor's actions constituted prosecutorial misconduct. It, however, denied defense counsel's motion for a new trial and instead reduced the conviction from first to second-degree murder. Even though the court felt sure that the jury had convicted based on a felony murder theory, it felt there was sufficient evidence to convict Brown of second-degree murder.

The California Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, though it condemned the prosecutor's actions; the state supreme court not only refused to take Brown's side, it ordered the lower court's opinion “depublished,” so as to spare the prosecutor, Wendy Widlus, any embarrassment. The case had to go to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before Brown received a new trial.  The new trial was ordered in Dec. 1991.  No information could be found on whether Brown was retried.  However, the Northwestern Law School website lists Brown as an exonerated person.  [5/08]

References:  Brown v. Borg, Google

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Los Angeles Cases