Crime & Justice

Judge: Former LA Sheriff Baca can't use Alzheimer's as defense

Former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca leaving the federal court with his attorneys. Baca is accused of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators.
Former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca leaving the federal court with his attorneys. Baca is accused of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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Federal prosecutors successfully blocked former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca from bringing in evidence or arguments about his early-onset Alzheimer's Disease as part of his defense at the upcoming corruption trial, scheduled to begin next week. 

Baca’s attorneys tapped a psychiatrist at UCLA, Dr. James Spar, to show the jury that the 74-year-old’s mind may have been clouded by the disease when he allegedly made false statements to federal investigators.

Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, pointed out in a hearing last fall that his client said “I don’t recall, I don’t remember” over 25 times during interviews.

But Baca wasn't diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's until last year – about three years after he made those statements. Prosecutors argued the doctor's testimony amounted to "junk science." 

Judge Percy Anderson agreed. In an order issued Friday, he wrote "evidence linking defendant’s current diagnosis to the charges is entirely speculative and inadmissible, is the product of unreliable methodology, artificially limited facts, and bare speculation." 

In addition to making false statements, Baca is accused of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for his alleged role in a scheme to block an FBI investigation into inmate abuse in the LA County jail. Several former employees have already been convicted or pleaded guilty for hiding an inmate informant from the FBI and threatening to arrest a federal agent. 

Jury selection is expected to begin Wednesday. 

The judge's exclusion of the Alzheimer's defense marks the second blow to Baca's team this week. Anderson also blocked testimony of character witnesses who were planning to speak to Baca's past "good acts." Baca's attorney declined to comment. 

"There's the first trial issue for appeal," said Stan Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School and former L.A. County public defender. 

"It struck me immediately that the defense's best argument here was his mental condition," he said.