SoCalHoops Breaking News
Testimony In Brunner Case--
Eyewitnesses Can't ID Him--(July 2, 1998)
Yesterday's edition of the Long Beach Press Telegram carried a story about Kenny Brunner's arraignment on charges of robbery and the attempted murder of LA City College head basketball coach Michael Miller. And if the reason which the Daily News reported Monday for the Dominguez team and coach Russell Oits' absence from the War on the Floor has any substance to it (reportedly Otis was meeting with Brunner and his lawyers to help in the defense), then they sure came up with a brilliant tactic.
Seems that when the alleged victim of the crime was called to the stand to testify, he couldn't positively identify Brunner.
So, No ID, no case? Probably not a very good one.
Brunner was ordered on Tuesday to be arraigned in Superior Court on charges of robbery and attempted murder, notwithstanding the latest twist.
Jerome Bradford, attorney for Brunner (who was rumored to have been hired by people connected with Fresno coach Jerry Tarkanian), told the Press Telegram: "They don't have a case." But notwithstanding that, Municipal Court Judge Jacob Adajian concluded Tuesday's preliminary hearing by ordering Brunner and co-defendant LaDale Lunnie to be arraigned July 14 in Superior Court on charges they robbed Los Angeles City College basketball coach Mike Miller of $1,500 cash and that Brunner tried to murder him. Prosecuting attorney Andrew Bassis said he intends to go forward with the case, but admitted that Tuesday's testimony of Miller and basketball scout Russell Ramsey, an eyewitness to the robbery, was "important."
Apparently at the hearing Los Angeles police officers Kevin Webb and Nathan Butcher testified that Lunnie told them he helped Brunner with the robbery. The police officers testified that Lunnie told them Brunner would pay him $100 if he talked to Miller, made sure the adjacent gym door was closed and if he waited in the car to drive Brunner away. Lunnie led officers to Brunner's residence in South Central L.A. According to Webb: "Mr. Lunnie kept saying, 'Don't let Kenny see me - if he sees me, he's going to kill me. The guy is crazy.' " But under California law, the testimony of a co-conspirator may not be admissible at trial. So without a positive id by the victim or another witness, the DA may have difficulty proving the case. "If that's the case," Bassis said, "it may create problems."
Both Miller and Ramsey testified that they couldn't be sure Brunner was the man who - a few minutes after the departure of Lunnie, an LACC student - came into Miller's school office on the afternoon of May 22, stuck a revolver against Miller's chest and pulled the trigger. When the gun didn't fire, Miller said he asked the assailant what he wanted and the man said, "Money." Miller then reached into the left pocket of his pants, pulled out 15 $100 bills - which he often carried "to pay for (players') dinners or anything else," - and handed them to the man who then fled. When Miller picked Brunner out of a police mug sheet the next day, he wrote on a report: "This is certainly the man who did this. I will never forget his face."
When Miller was asked Tuesday if Brunner was the man who robbed him, Miller replied: "I believe so, but I can't be 100 percent sure. . . . I hadn't slept all night. I was upset at having a gun at my chest. I thought somebody was going to kill me. At the time I was somewhat traumatized. It's hard to make a positive identification."
Apparently Ramsey followed Miller to the witness stand, and he seemed even less sure that Brunner, the man he also picked out of the mug sheet, was the assailant. Ramsey described the assailant as clean shaven, while Brunner, in the mug shot, had some facial hair. He also said Brunner appeared an inch or so taller and more muscular than the assailant.
Miller and Ramsey each testified that before the robbery they had never heard of Brunner, a four-year starter and a high school All-American at one of the highest-profile basketball programs in the state. At the time Brunner was playing for Mater Dei, Miller was coaching the State Champion JC team.
Despite the high profile nature of both programs, Miller said he had seen Dominguez play twice, but each time he was focused on opposing players he was recruiting. Ramsey said he just got into the scouting business a year ago, by which time Brunner was already out of high school. Bassis asked Miller and Ramsey if, before the robbery, they would recognize Brunner walking down the street. Each answered, "No."
The DA was apparently incredulous, and must have thought something was up, because with the next series of questions he treated his own witnesses as hostile, asking Ramsey if anyone had asked him not to make an identification in the case. Ramsey answered, "No."
Brunner, unable to make $550,000 bail, continues to be held in L.A. County jail. He attended Tuesday's hearing in handcuffs wearing an inmate uniform of a white shirt and powder blue pants with white socks and tan sandals. He winked at two of his friends, Laker forward Mario Bennett and former Pepperdine star Dane Suttle, and sneered briefly at Lunnie but otherwise sat passively through most of the hearing. Lunnie remained free Tuesday, having posted $35,000 bail.
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