Efren Cruz's Defense Team: Serving Justice

In all probability, Efren Cruz should still be behind bars, serving a sentence of 41 years to life for a murder he didn't commit. But Cruz got lucky, the improbable happened and now he is free.

In January 1997, Michael Torres was shot and killed in a downtown Santa Barbara parking lot following a scuffle with members of an Oxnard gang. Based on the testimony of an eye witness and the presence of gun shot residue on his hand, Cruz - just on month out of the army - was convicted and sentenced in Santa Barbara Judge Frank Ochoa's courtroom.

Two years later, an Oxnard gangster and a member of the Mexican Mafia told Oxnard Detective Dennis McMaster - whose testimony helped convict Cruz - the real shooter in the Torres killing was Cruz's cousin and Oxnard gangster Alfonso Rodriguez*.

When local authorities expressed no interest in this information, Bill Haney and McMaster took matters into their own hands, on their own time. Even though it was a Santa Barbara case, Haney and McMaster wired their client for sound and put him in a jail cell with Rodriguez. While together Rodriguez admitted to their client that he - and not Cruz - did the killing. Despite this tape-recorded confession - and several entreaties by Haney and McMaster to have the case re-opened - S.B. authorities remained convinced they put the right guy away.

Two Ventura defense Attorneys - Philip Dunn and Kevin Denoce - agreed to take his case free of charge. Their investigator Len Newcomb, turned up new evidence: several witnesses had told the officers on the case they had heard Rodriguez confess to the killing, but this information never surfaced. Armed with this evidence, they went before Judge Ochoa and for three weeks it was prosecutor against prosecutor; cop against cop; Ventura against Santa Barbara.

In the end, justice won. Judge Ochoa ruled that Cruz was wrongfully convicted and that the real killer was Rodriguez. By then, Cruz had spent four-and-a-half years behind bars. Later McMaster would explain, "I was just doing my job." Perhaps lucky for Cruz that Haney, DeNoce, Newcomb, and Dunn were just as dedicated to theirs. But not just lucky for Cruz, lucky for Santa Barbara, too. 

*-names changed to protect the identities of the parties

Charges dropped against Thousand Oaks doctor's spouse in patient death

Charges were dropped Wednesday against a Thousand Oaks doctor's husband who'd been accused of practicing medicine without a license and administering drugs that allegedly led to a patient's death.  Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ryan Wright granted a motion made by prosecutors about 9 a.m. Wednesday to dismiss both felony offenses, according to a news release issued by McQuillan's attorney, Philip Dunn.  Dunn said in a statement that McQuillan was exonerated after "relevant facts and legal research" were presented to the court. Among them were a previous court ruling defining the practice of medicine.   To read the complete article click here: