Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Conclusion

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Photo of crime scene courtesy of LAPL. This Bob’s restaurant has since been demolished.

Tami Rogoway’s failure to identify Franklin Freeman as one of the Bob’s Big Boy shooters the first time around was a boon for his defense attorney, Madelynn Kopple. A rumor circulated that Rogoway’s failure may have been the result of undue pressure applied to her by Kopple.  In any case, Kopple mounted a vigorous defense. But despite the rumors no verifiable evidence was found to prove that she had applied undue pressure on Rogoway and the witness did finally ID Freeman as one of the killers.

Clearly a pit bull in defense of her client, Kopple went so far as to write letters to the Los Angeles police and prosecutors charging that they were aware of Freeman’s innocence and that they were “allowing the actual killer to remain free.” Her action triggered a gag order. Undeterred,  Kopple supplied the name of the man she thought should take Freeman’s place at trial: Thomas Carver, 29. It isn’t clear from the LA Times coverage why Kopple accused Carver. If he had any connection with the other defendants it wasn’t mentioned. Yet, at Kopple’s insistence, Carver was brought in for a lineup at the Sheriff’s Department. The gag order prevented details of the lineup from being reported in detail by the press, but the outcome spoke volumes. Carter was returned to his West LA home and was never charged.

The contretemps over Kopple’s letters was far from over though. Superior Court Judge James M. Ideman dismissed her as Freeman’s attorney for what he considered her over-the-top behavior. However Freeman refused to accept another attorney in Koppel’s place so an appeal was filed and she was reinstated.

None of the defense attorneys were keen to have their clients tried together; so, motions to sever were submitted, and accepted.  The three defendants would be tried individually.

Leslie Abramson

Leslie Abramson

First up was Ricky Sanders. There was a mountain of evidence against him and even legendary defense attorney Leslie Abramson found it an uphill battle. A search of his home turned up a sawed-off shotgun similar to the weapon used in murders–as well as two spent shell cases the same size as those used by the second gunman. Cops also found coins in wrappers of the type used at Bob’s.

At every opportunity the prosecutor,  Harvey Giss, reminded the jurors of the carnage in the restaurant—and the continuing pain felt by the loved ones of the dead in the days and months since.

Cesario Luna never regained consciousness and died of his wounds six months after the attack. Jurors learned that he wasn’t even supposed to be in the restaurant that night. He came in on his day off to fill in for a worker who was a no-show. His son, Ismael, a dishwasher, miraculously escaped injury but whatever relief he felt was marred by the devastating loss of  his father. Michael Malloy, the night manager, lost his right eye. Evelyn Jackson, a waitress who pleaded with the gunmen for her life after the shooting began, was shot in the head and suffered severe brain damage. Dionne Irvin, waitress, had her arm shattered by a shotgun blast. Rogoway, waitress, who initially failed to identify Freeman, was partially paralyzed with 150 shotgun pellets in her body, three of them lodged in her spinal column.

On August 20, 1982 the jury found Sanders guilty of four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, five counts of robbery, two counts of attempted robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery.

The jury that found Sanders guilty for his part in the December 14, 1980 massacre sentenced him to die.

With her boyfriend sentenced to death Carletha Stewart decided, on the very day she was to go to trial, to plead guilty and avoid the same fate. She copped to all of the crimes she was charged with: four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit robbery. She admitted to driving the getaway car. Taking everything into consideration she got a good deal, 25 years to life.freeman pic2

The last to stand trial was Franklin Freeman.

In his opening statement at Freeman’s trial in August 1983, Deputy District Attorney Harvey Giss told jurors that they could expect Carletha Stewart to tell them the same story she had told him.  That her cousin had taken part in planning the robbery at Bob’s but backed out when a third conspirator said that he might have to kill everyone in the restaurant.  Giss planned to discredit Stewart and prove that Freeman had gone through with the robbery and murders. Carletha threw him a curve when she refused to testify. Giss wasn’t broken up about her decision since, as far as he was concerned, she was going to perjure herself.  The prosecution’s case went forward without difficulty.

Further, Giss told the jury that he would present  testimony from the manager of a Taco Bell in Santa Monica that was robbed by two gunmen just hours following the slaughter at Bob’s. The manager identified Freeman and quoted his accomplice as saying: “We are going to jail for 30 years for what we just did, so we don’t care about you.” Then the man identified as Freeman said, “Put him in the freezer; put him in the refrigerator and plug him.”

The manager would likely have died if he hadn’t escaped by batting the gun out of the robber’s hand, grabbing it, emptying the shells out of it and then diving through a plate glass window.

The trial lasted four months and the jury deliberated for one week. On December 22, 1983, four days past the third anniversary of the crime, Franklin Freeman Jr. was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon, six counts of robbery, and one count of conspiracy. He was also found guilty of attempting to rob the Santa Monica Taco Bell and guilty of assaulting the manger with a deadly weapon.

Freeman convictedFreeman sat impassively as the verdict was read, and while a young woman screaming “no” and “you liar” attempted to lunge through the short swinging gate that separates spectators from trial participants. Two bailiffs subdued her and she was removed from the courtroom. Whether she was a relative, girlfriend, or just a trial groupie wasn’t revealed.

During the penalty phase the jury was unable to reach a decision about Freeman’s punishment and announced that they were hopelessly deadlocked.

Because of the deadlock the prosecution and defense were compelled to present their evidence to a second jury tasked with determining Freeman’s sentence. Nearly one year following his conviction Freeman was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Freeman showed no emotion when his sentence was pronounced but Madelynn Kopple burst into tears.

freeman sparedWhen asked by reporters why Freeman’s life had been spared, the jury’s forewoman said that they had some doubts regarding the extent of his involvement in the murders and so decided against sending him to the gas chamber.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Ricky Sanders — is still on death row.  On May 26, 2010, he filed an appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit over the denial of his habeas petition in Federal District Court. I don’t know the outcome of his appeal, but it was very likely denied. If and when California resumes executions he is certainly at the top of the list.

Franklin Freeman Jr. —  is in prison serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Carletha Stewart — a petition circulated by a friend of hers a few years ago advocated for her release, but as far as I can tell she is still incarcerated.

Madelynn Koppel — according to  the California Bar Association she continues to practice law.

Leslie Abramson — is best known for her defense of Erik and Lyle Menendez for the 1989 shotgun murder of their parents in Beverly Hills.

Harvey Giss — eventually left the DA’s office and went on to become a superior court judge.  He retired in July 2014.

I don’t know what became of the survivors of the tragedy. I sincerely hope that they were able to find some measure of peace and, those who were physically and emotionally able, went on to lead happy lives.

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Part 2

Chief Daryl Gates at a press conference.

Chief Daryl Gates at a press conference.

At a press conference on December 23, 1980 at Parker Center, Daryl Gates, Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, announced that three suspects in the gruesome massacre at the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on La Cienega near Sawyer Street, in which three people were killed, were in custody and would be charged with first degree murder. The suspects were identified as: Franklin Freeman, 22, Ricky Sanders, 25, and Carletha Stewart, 19. [Stewart and Freeman were cousins, Stewart was Sanders’ girlfriend.] Gates said that Stewart was a former employee of the restaurant but did not say how long she had been employed or when she had left.

Forbidden by law to disclose the criminal records of the suspects prior to their being charged, Chief Gates said that the alleged gunmen had police records and one of them had a record of “serious violations–real hard-time stuff.” Stewart had no criminal record and wasn’t in the restaurant during the murders; however, she was thought to have been the getaway driver.

The suspects spent Christmas Eve in court where they were formally charged with murder, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. Each of them was eligible for the death penalty if convicted; and all of them entered a plea of not guilty.

Once they’d been charged, Sanders’ criminal record was made public. He had been released from custody on March 12, 1979 after serving almost a year in Soledad and Tehachapi for a residential burglary in Orange Count.  Not exactly “hard-time stuff”, but certainly incarceration in a California State Prison counts as serious.

As far as hard-time goes, Freeman’s younger brother, Anthony, 19, stood a chance of doing a major stretch in prison for a murder he had allegedly committed. He was awaiting a retrial for the strangulation murder of seventy-two year-old Rosa Robinson. She had been strangled with a vacuum cleaner cord on August 8, 1979. She was the mother of Inglewood Municipal Court Judge Roosevelt Robinson. Anthony’s first trial deadlocked 11-to-1 in favor of conviction. It was possible that the Freeman brothers would serve prison time, if not in the same facility, then at least simultaneously. [Anthony was sentenced to life at his second trial.]

One of the revelations during the preliminary hearing in April 1981 was that the robbery was not committed on a whim, it had been planned. According to an acquaintance of Stewart’s, Andre Gilcrest, 21, about two weeks prior to the actual robbery Stewart told him that some of her friends were going to rob the Bob’s restaurant that night. Gilcrest, who was held in protective custody, said that after Stewart told him about the plan they drove to the restaurant and drank coffee until closing waiting for the shit to hit the fan. The robbery didn’t occur that night because, as Stewart later learned, the manager, thinking that the would-be robbers were customers who hadn’t made it before closing time wouldn’t open the door for them.

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One of the victims who testified at the preliminary hearing, during which all three of the defendants were present, was Rhonda Robinson. She took the stand and almost immediately began to tremble. When she became incoherent a recess was called so she could collect herself. When the DA asked her why she was so frightened she said: “Because I know that’s the guy [motioning to Freeman] over there who did it.” She was one of the lucky ones in that she was not physically harmed during the shootings, but she was psychologically damaged. She said she had nightmares and wasn’t able to return to work. She was consulting a psychiatrist for her ongoing emotional trauma.

Ismael Luna testified through a Spanish language interpreter. He was shocked and bewildered by the violence.  He said: “We were all in a group and they just started shooting.” Luna’s father Cesario, wounded during the shooting, died after languishing for several months in a coma–bringing the death toll to four.

Michael Malloy, night manager at the restaurant, lost his right eye during the gunfire. He appeared in court with a bandage covering half his face.

Orasteen Freeman insisted her son was the victim of mistaken identity. You might expect a mother to defend her son, but in this case there was possibly something to her assertion. One of the survivors of the massacre, Tami Rogoway, had failed to make a positive identification of Freeman. But less than a week later she testified that she was “positive” that he was one of the two men who shot into the freezer that night. She explained her inability to identify him the first time because she had  been too afraid to make eye contact with the defendant; but later when “he turned back once, our eyes caught…and I flashed back to Bob’s Big Boy.”

Madelynn Kopple, Freeman’s attorney, asked Rogoway if she was “willing to bet your life” on identifying Freeman. Rogoway replied: “I have to be willing to sit up here and say what I just said.”

witness changes testimony

Would Rogoway’s initial failure to ID Freeman be enough to plant the seeds of reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors?

NEXT TIME:  The conclusion of the bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy.

Bloodbath at Bob’s Big Boy, Part 1

bob logoIt was 2:05 a.m. on Sunday, December 14, 1980 and the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on La Cienega near Sawyer, just north of the Santa Monica Freeway, was closed for the night. There were still eleven people inside, two customers preparing to leave, and nine employees.

Two black men entered the restaurant through the front door. The late comers could have been customers who had not realized the restaurant was closed except that each them was brandishing a sawed-off shotgun, and one of them was armed with a revolver.

All eleven people were herded at gunpoint into the restaurant’s 8×15 foot walk-in freezer and made to lie on the floor. The victims complied with every request. They covered their heads with their hands and waited for the ordeal to end. Then, for no apparent reason, the robbers opened fire. When they were finished the freezer was an abattoir and three people were dead.

The bloodbath at Bob’s ended the fourth highest weekend of murder on record in Los Angeles with a total of 32 people slain. It was an appalling statistic and prompted Lt. Glenn Ackerman of LAPD’s West LA division to say: “What in the name of God kind of monster could have done a thing like this? It’s totally out of the realm of the kind of behavior that civilized people can even contemplate.”

rising tide violence

Citizens were terrified, and no wonder. The week before the Bob’s murders former Beatle John Lennon was assassinated on the street in front of his New York City apartment. It seemed that no matter where you lived, or who you were, you were not safe. The 1980s was one of the most violent decades in the U.S. since the 1860s and the carnage  continued at a record pace until the early 1990s.

LAPD issued a nationwide dragnet for the killers based on the physical descriptions as reported by the victims. The management of Bob’s Big Boy offered a $10,000 reward for information leading their arrest and conviction.luna pic

There were three dead at the scene: David Burrell, 20, customer; Aphrodite (Dita) Agtani, 23, waitress and mother of a 4 month old child. Ahmad Mashuck, 20, employee who died several hours later. In critical condition were diswasher Cesario Luna, 45 and Evelyn Jackson, 23, also an employee. In serious condition were Rami Ellen Rogoway, 17, patron; Dionne Alcia Irvin, 20, and Michael Malloy, 23 both employees. Slightly wounded was Derwin Logan, 19, employee. Uninjured were Rhonda Robinson, 19, and Ismael Luna, 20 (Cesario’s son), both employees. Cesario Luna would linger in a coma for several months before he passed away, bringing the death toll to four.

task force

A special LAPD task force to combat violent crime on the West Side was formed and Deputy Police Chief Daniel Sullivan said: “The idea is to keep people from getting hurt in the first place–instead of just arresting someone after something terrible has happened.” The plan was to use cops as decoys. Sullivan continued: “I want the bad guys to know that the next guy they try to rob on the street is liable to be a police officer…”

A task force was all well and good going forward, but meanwhile the cops had to identify and arrest the people responsible for the massacre at Bob’s.

NEXT TIME: The killers are busted.