The "Adam's Apple" Case

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It was Friday evening  nearly two years ago,  a group of young people were inside a car parked at The Crosses at Grant Park in Ventura, some smoking marijuana and others had been drinking alcohol.

An armed gang member walked up to them and demanded a backpack that had been sitting on top of the car and after, he was told he couldn't have it. The assailant fired the gun, struck Chase Christiansen in the forehead with the butt of the gun and left with the backpack, according to prosecutors.

The incident took place on May 27,2011 at about 6:45 p.m. Nobody saw how the assailant left the park, according to prosecutors.

Christiansen was the only person who was able to identify Maximiliano  "Max" Ledezma as the assailant, and pointed  to him in court when he  testified  in Ledezma's  trial.

It ended Friday afternoon with attorneys giving closing arguments.

What lead to 23-year-old Ledezma's arrest was a 14 second video recording taken by Jacqueline Ayala who was in the backseat of the car. The video, which was shown to jurors, only shows a male image from the neck to mid-waist standing beside the vehicle and his voice is heard. The assailant is wearing a T-shirt.

From Ayala's video recording,  a gang investigator was able to make an arrest after an investigation, he said he identified the Adam's apple. He got Christiansen to identify Ledezma as the armed gunman.

But Ledezma's lawyer Claudia Bautista poked holes in the prosecution's case, telling jurors that this case based solely  on witness identification, a gang investigator's linking the Adam's apple in the video to Ledezma.

"This case is solely based on eyewitness identification," Bautista told jurors during her closing argument. "The sole issue here was whether Mr. Ledezma was at the Crosses on May 27."

She pointed out  to jurors that Christensen - the lone witness who identified the gunman - was  intoxicated along with the owner of the backpack, Ricky Garcia, and others in the vehicle.

Adding, "eyewitness testimony  is so sensitive and so dangerous and in order for you to rely on it, you have to be guided by the law."

Bautista said the Ventura gang Detective Todd Hourigan focused on the Adam's apple, which he described in court as prominent and concluded that it was Ledezma's and arrested him on June 6, 2011.

During cross examination of Hourigan, Bautista mockingly asked him if he had "prominent Adam's apple" training. But during her closing, she praised Hourigan, saying that he was a hardworking cop who is doing his best to put Ventura's street thugs who terrorize others in jail.

However, she said Hourigan is a gang expert, and there should be much more evidence than someone's Adam's apple, and a lone witness to put her client at the crime scene. She suggested that Hourigan put his finger on her client's photograph during the six-photo lineup when he showed it to Christiansen who picked him out.

"Detective Hourigan is sincere but he is mistaken, but he is not lying," Bautista told jurors. "He is invested in the conclusion. He is sincere, and he is invested."

Nor,did Hourigan plant evidence or had an axe to grind or was out to convict her client to get even, said Bautista.

Bautista said Hourigan lacks training in witness identification, adding that the fault lies with the Ventura Police Department who, she blames, for not giving Hourigan and other officers the proper resources to do their jobs.

"It's Max Ledezma. I know that Adam's apple anywhere," she said Hourigan concluded.  

Sabo said the defense brought in Nicky Medel as an alibi for Ledezma. She had not said a word until about 11 months ago when shesaid Ledezma was doing yard work for her at the time of the incident.

Sabo questioned why Medel  didn't  call police as soon as she found out he had been arrest.

Right after the robbery, Sabo said the backpack was found during a traffic stop by police with known gang members inside the vehicle. Ledezma knew two of those inside the vehicle but he wasn't inside, said Sabo.

Sabo said the "fatty deposit" on the chin and "cleft chin" matches Ledezma's chin; Bautista countered that nobody said anything on the stand about a "fatty deposit" or cleft chin up until Sabo brought it up during closing arguments.

Bautista put up images of famous celebrity chins, asking jurors if they knew who these men where before revealing their identity.

Sabo said there is plenty of evidence that indicates that Ledezma , whose moniker is Baby Mousie," is a member of the Ventura Avenue criminal street gang;  Bautista said her client admitted this on the stand, saying he was a gang associate.

Bautista urged the jury not to convict her client because he is a gang associate or because of the actions of a criminal street gang.

Sabo said Hourigan looked at hundreds of photo to conclude that it was Ledezma's Adam's apple.

"Clearly, you see the defendant's right eye and his nose" on his profile, said Sabo about the video.

Adding that Ledezma is guilty of aiding and abetting in this crime even though he might not have ever handled the backpack, said Sabo.  

Sabo said Ledezma got a fair trial and is entitled to one. But when jurors examine the facts and circumstances, Ledezma is guilty of robbery and aggravated assault and other related charges, Sabo told jurors.

Bautista said her client didn't do it, and that jurors can't convict him if they surmise that he might be guilty or is likely guilty or probably or perhaps he did it. She said the legal stand is beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted of all the felonies, Sabo said in an interview that Ledezma could be sent to prison for 33 years.

Sabo said the key to this crime is the identification of the Adam's apple.

"That's what it really boils down to," said Sabo.



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The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at