Cosmo A. Taormina


More about People v. Gantt (#BA081989)


At about 9 a.m. on August 19, 1992 Kalpesh Vardham was stabbed 18 times at 808 S. Olive Street, in Los Angeles California. His body was discovered at 4:00 p.m. by a security guard in the building. The police had very little by way of evidence. The only witness to have any type of useful information was a CPA for Arthur Andersen named Kevin Shorts. Shorts testified that around 9:00 a.m. or so he thought he saw two black men in an older, 1970s, model car pawing door handles in the structure. Shorts was unable to remember the license plate and never did get a good look at either one of the suspects. The case went cold.


Six weeks later the cops arrested David Rosemond, a known car thief and burglar caught in act of burglarizing another car. In exchange for leniency, Mr. Rosemond offered to tell the police about the murder he had "witnessed". Rosemond told the story of how he was up all night the day before the murder smoking crack. Coming down from his crack high, and suffering from mental disabilities exacerbated by his crack habit, Rosemond needed more money to fuel his habit. Picking the parking structure at 808 S. Olive, since he burglarized it before, Rosemond entered with the intent to steal car stereos that he could sell. What happened next has been the subject of great debate as Mr. Rosemond's stories differ greatly from version to version. However, the jury in 1994 believed the following: Rosemond entered the parking structure and walked up to the sixth floor. Once there he began to check cars for stereos that he could steal. Rosemond heard a noise and claims that he saw Timothy Gantt and Michael Smith robbing Mr. Vardham. He alleged that Mr. Smith was holding a gun on the victim while Mr. Gantt was punching the victim in the chest. After the attack Mr. Rosemond walked over to the bleeding and beaten body and helped himself to a couple credit cards and the victim's wallet.


The police arrested Mr. Gantt and Mr. Smith. In Mr. Gant's pocket was a matchbook from an Indian restaurant. On the inside of the matchbook was written a phone number to Bangladesh. Since the victim was Indian the police concluded that the matchbook must have come from the victim, taken by Mr. Gantt, as the man lay dying on the floor of the parking structure. This evidence provided an anchor point for Mr. Rosemond's story and Mr. Gantt and Mr. Smith were indicted for murder.


In February 1994 both men were convicted of special circumstances murder and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.


Unknown to the defense, but known to the prosecution, was that the number in the matchbook found on Mr. Gannon was not connected to the victim. Employees at the restaurant told police that they had never seen the victim frequent the restaurant. In fact, the police interviewed Ferdous Kahn, a waiter at the restaurant, whose father's phone number was on the inside of a matchbook. Mr. Khan told the police that he had not given his father's phone number to the victim nor had he ever seen the victim before. The police went one step further. They contacted authorities in Bangladesh and had them pay a visit to Mr. Kahn to show him a picture of the victim. Mr. Kahn stated that he had never seen the victim nor knew who he was.


Horrified by his conviction, Mr. Gantt wrote his own wit of habeas corpus to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In late summer of 2003 the appeal was granted and the judgment was vacated with the Ninth Circuit directing that an evidentiary inquiry be held to determine whether or not the prosecution had turned over to the defense the information surrounding the matchbook. The result of the evidentiary hearing led the court to conclude that the prosecution had not turned over the evidence to the defense, and that such evidence was material to the jury's finding of guilt on the part of Mr. Gantt. The circuit court ordered that a new trial take place with the new evidence now fully disclosed to the defense.


In 2007 the Los Angeles County district attorney's office chose to retry the case alleging the same charges: Special circumstances murder. Representing the Los Angeles County district attorney's office were Patrick Dixon, the head of the Major crimes unit for the L.A. District Attorney's Office and 2007 prosecutor of the year, Robert Grace. Mr. Taormina was one of two attorneys defending Mr. Gantt in this new trial, sitting second chair.


Amazingly, all the witnesses were still available and in the area. In early June 2007 the trial commenced. After eight days of trial testimony of the witnesses the District Attorney's office declared itself unable to proceed and dismissed all charges against Mr. Gantt. The reason was that prior to starting his direct testimony Mr. Rosemond had a change of conscious. Specifically, after 16 years of silence Mr. Rosemond let it be known that he wore glasses all his life and on the day that he witnessed the murder he wasn't wearing them. On the day he would be facing cross-examination by a prepared and competent defense counsel, Mr. Rosemond stated that he could not testify beyond a reasonable doubt that the persons that he saw inside the parking structure on the day of the murder were in fact Mr. Gantt and Mr. Smith. After 15 years of wrongful incarceration Mr. Gantt went home to his grandchildren.



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