Baca Facing Separate Trials to Accommodate Health Testimony

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A medical expert will be allowed to testify that former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca was cognitively impaired during a meeting in which he allegedly lied to prosecutors, but only after he first defends against obstruction charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Friday.

Federal prosecutors wanted U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson to exclude testimony by defense expert Dr. James Spar, arguing that he had concluded without medical or scientific evidence that Baca was in the preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease at the April 2013 meeting with prosecutors.

Admission of the testimony would “undoubtedly evoke the jury’s sympathy” and prejudice the government, prosecutors said.

After Anderson denied the motion, the government filed another motion Friday asking the court to first try Baca for on charges that he conspired to obstruct justice and obstructed justice. A second trial would then be held to decide whether he made false statements at the meeting, the government said, and jurors would hear from Spar then.

“Because defendant has not and cannot argue that Dr. Spar’s testimony has any bearing on defendant’s obstructive conduct in 2011, severance of counts should be granted to prevent the jury from rendering a verdict on counts one and two based on entirely irrelevant evidence,” the government said in its motion.

Anderson ruled in telephone conference after the motion was filed that the trial will be severed into two separate trials, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said Friday.

The judge denied Baca’s request for a limiting instruction for jurors before and after Dr. Spar’s testimony directing them to only consider the testimony as it applies to the charge of making a false statement.

Baca said that one trial would save time, while “having two trials will exact a huge financial toll on Mr. Baca, who is funding his defense himself.” But the judge denied the request to impanel one jury and bifurcate a single trial.

Anderson has ruled that Baca is competent to stand trial, under a joint stipulation. Baca says he received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2014, and retired as sheriff that same year after overseeing several scandal-plagued years as head of the department.

Baca is accused of conspiring to hide informant-inmate Anthony Brown from investigators after jailers discovered an FBI phone was smuggled into Men’s Central Jail by deputy jailer Gilbert Michel.

In August 2011, Baca asked his second-in-command, convicted former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, to investigate how the phone ended up with Brown. The next month, Baca instructed officials to “do everything but put handcuffs” on FBI Agent Leah Marx, who was investigating the case, the government says.

At the meeting with prosecutors, Baca supposedly said he did not know the FBI was investigating the jails, that he was not involved in any effort to keep agents away from Brown, and that he did not know about a plan to approach Marx.

If a federal jury finds Baca guilty, he faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, 10 years for obstruction and up to five years for making a false statement.

Baca’s trial begins with jury selection on Monday at the new First Street federal courthouse. Opening arguments are expected Tuesday.

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