Candy Cottage & Gift Store Robbery
Overview of Incident:
On February 2, 2005, Nelly Z was working in the store she owned, the Candy Cottage and Gift Shop in Oak Park, CA. At 3 PM, she heard the bell that sounds when someone enters the store and saw a person whom she later described as a young boy walking toward the back of the store to the candy section.
The young man then walked quickly toward the front of the store to a counter where the jewelry was displayed and where the cash register was located. When asked by the young man if the jewelry was real, she responded that she only carried costume jewelry.
The young man then pulled out a black handgun. He did not point the gun at her, but had the gun on his chest, which made it visible to her.
Nelly Z later testified she was “extremely scared” and “tried not to look at the person” because she “didn’t want him to shoot me.” She then stood back and looked down. She asked the man to put away the gun and said she would give him whatever he wanted.
The man told her to open the cash register, after which he grabbed the entire cash drawer and exited the store, turning left toward a white car. She immediately called the police, who quickly responded and eventually took a report.
Nelly Z’s Statement to Police:
Although Nelly Z later testified that she purposefully averted her eyes from the man after he pulled out the gun, she insisted to police that day that she got a “good look at him”. The police report states that she also reported the suspect had “wavy and curly hair”.
Approximately 5 to 7 days after the robbery, she viewed two mug shot photo lineup cards presented to her by detectives. She picked out Ryan’s Madden’s picture from the first set of pictures as being the person she believed robbed her… Even though the picture showed Ryan had a nearly shaved head of hair that may have measured 1/8 of an inch in length and not the “wavy and curly hair” she earlier reported to police on the day of the robbery.
Ryan’s Alibi Defense:
Ryan provided testimony from Elexis Witness and his mother, Kathy, that on February 2, 2005, he had been in Pacific Palisades from 9 AM until after 4 PM, and thus had an alibi. Elexis later testified under oath that she was at the mobile home watching TV all day and that she had never left while Ryan’s slept.
She stated Ryan didn’t leave the mobile home until sometime after 4 PM that day… Making it impossible for him to be the person Nelly Z later identified as being the suspect who robbed her at gunpoint.
Mrs. Madden also testified that she was able to remember that the day of the events that established Ryan’s alibi was the same day Nelly Z was robbed – February 2 – by two circumstances.
- She wanted to remind Ryan that she had to return his rental car the following day on February 3, which was the reason she was trying to contact him on February 2. Rental car receipts confirm the rental car was due on February 3.
- She remembered that she had tried to reach Ryan by calling him on his cell phone from her cell phone, but there was no answer. Certified cell phone records confirmed she had only placed one call in a several day period to his cell phone. This day happened to be on the same day as the robbery, just to she claimed – February 2 at 4:23 PM, which was one hour and 23 min. after the robbery occurred.
After having her call sent to voicemail, she went to James Hartley’s uncle’s house to get James’s drivers license number for an SR1 accident report form that needed to be filed with the DMV. James had gotten into an accident in Ryan’s car weeks earlier, which was the reason for needing his drivers license number.
James claimed he didn’t have his license on him and dialed Tiffany’s mobile home from his phone for Mrs. Madden at 4:45 PM on February 2 to see if Ryan was there and to inquire about his license possibly being in Ryan’s rental car .
Elexis Witness testified she briefly spoke with Mrs. Madden before waking Ryan up to have him speak with his mother. After speaking briefly with his mom, Ryan asked Elexis to look in the glove box and throughout his rental car for James’s drivers license. Elexis also testified that she had only spoken with Mrs. Madden one time in her life and that she couldn’t be confusing that conversation with one that may have happened on another date.
Ryan’s father Michael visited him in jail right after being arrested, which was nearly 2 months after the robbery. After hearing him vehemently proclaiming his innocence, Michael asked Ryan a few of the following probing questions:
- Who was at Tiffany’s mobile home that day? (Elexis Witness was there all day, and Tiffany was there when he woke up)
- What was he wearing on that day (A blue long sleeve shirt was all he could remember)
- What time he arrived at Tiffany’s (he thought he arrived around 8 AM)
- What time he left Tiffany’s (He recalled leaving somewhere around 5 PM)
- What did he do all day at Tiffany’s (He specifically remember sleeping all day since he was partying the night before)
- What outstanding events did he recall taking place that day (He remembered his mom waking him up with a phone call to remind him to return the rental car the next day, and looking for James Hartley’s drivers license)
Immediately after leaving the jail, Michael called Elexis Witness on her cell phone to ask her the same open ended questions Ryan was just asked. EVERY single answer she gave was identical to Ryan’s answers, with the exception being she thought he arrived around 9 AM and left somewhere around 4 PM.
NOTE: Ryan and Elexis couldn’t have corroborated on getting their stories straight since the jails don’t allow collect calls to be placed to cell phones, which is all Elexis had access to.
Evidence the jury never saw which corroborated Ryan’s alibi:
- Kathy Madden’s certified cell phone record that proved she placed a call to him at 4:23 PM on February 2, 2005.
- Rental car receipts that showed Ryan’s rental car due back on February 3, 2005.
- DMV SR1 Accident reporting form mandated by the state of California that required James Hartley’s drivers license number.
During his closing argument to the jury, the prosecutor note that Mrs. Madden ”wants to believe it was the 2nd’ [of February] but pointed out that there was “no evidence other than her recollection that the events occurred on the 2nd”. He went on to state that ”her recollection is from taking her daughter to soccer practice and making a couple of phone calls”.
The prosecutor raised no other challenge to Ryan’s alibi defense.
Even though Ryan’s attorney had in his possession at the time of trial the rental car receipts showing that the car was due to be returned February 3, along with Mrs. Madden’s certified cell phone records confirming one call was indeed placed to Ryan’s cell phone on February 2 at 4:23 PM, he failed to present and introduce these receipts into the court record as evidence for the jury to consider.
Had he introduced these records, he would have been able to rebut the only challenge the prosecution made to Ryan’s alibi that there was ”no evidence other than Mrs. Madden’s recollection that the events occurred on February 2”.
Victim Retracted Her Identification of Suspect:
Public Defender Investigator Anthony Paradis interviewed Nelly Z at her store a few weeks after the robbery. During the course of the interview, Paradis displayed a photo of James Hartley to her. As related by Paradis in his report of the interview, “without me asking any question, or making any reference to the photograph, Nelly Z pointed to the photograph [of Hartley] and said “THAT’S the one who robbed me”.
Paradise advised her this was not the person she had identified according to the police report. He then displayed a photograph of Ryan to her. She related that she remembered identifying Ryan’s photo as “looking a little like” the person who robbed her but continued to maintain that Hartley’s photo “was the person” who robbed her.
Ryan’s attorney never contacted Paradis to discuss his interview of Nelly Z. He also did not question Nelly Z about the change in her identification from Ryan to Hartley, nor did he introduce evidence to the court of her changed identification of the suspect to Paradis.
Nelly Z later recanted her recantation after speaking with her son, who was then in the Sheriff’s academy. After being told by her son that she was “gullible” and that “defense investigators come to try and trick you,” she called the detectives handling the case in Ventura County to report this incident.
After changing her identification of the suspect once again, she later told sheriffs detective Christian in a subsequent interview that Ryan and Hartley “look very similar” and that “you see how much they look alike, and you can see why the sheriff picked the wrong person”.
Had Ryan’s attorney introduced evidence that Nelly Z identified a different suspect than Ryan as being the person who robbed her, he would have been able to argue forcefully to the jury that her identification – the ONLY evidence against Ryan – was not reliable.