A man convicted in a 2003 gang shooting in South Park has appealed his case all the way up to the state Supreme Court, claiming that witnesses mistook him for somebody else nicknamed Wedo Loco with a 206 neck tattoo.
One of the gangsters, Nicholas Renion, asked Manzo to step outside. When Manzo refused, a short, skinny, baldheaded, white guy nicknamed "Guero Loco" pulled out a large, silver, semi-auto pistol and made it clear that Renion was ordering, not asking. Manzo told police that he tried to grab the gun, then ran into a nearby bedroom and locked the door. With his would-be attackers trying to force their way into the room, Manzo snuck out the second-floor window, lowered himself onto an awning, and then leapt down to the pavement.
The angry VL members hustled downstairs and spotted Manzo just as he got the keys in the ignition of his SUV and started to make a getaway. Guero Loco (translation: "crazy whitey") aimed the pistol with his left hand and squeezed off eight shots. The bullets broke the car windows and popped the rear tires as Manzo sped away. The driver was unscathed except for a graze wound on his stomach. He made it home, and told a security guard at a nearby store to call the police.
When the cops interviewed Manzo, he told them the shooter's nickname, and mentioned that the man had a 206 tattoo on his neck. Local law enforcement just so happened to know a gang member that fit the description: Charles Weber.
Weber has 206 tatted in two-inch letters across the back of his neck. He also goes by the nickname Wedo (a bastardized spelling of guero, pronounced like "where-oh") Loco, which is inked on his knuckles. His other tats include the VL initials, and the word "Sur" with three dots -- a symbol for sureño 13 -- on his shoulder.
Police showed Manzo a photo montage that included Weber, but blocked out the 206 neck tattoo. Manza, who estimated he drank nine beers on the night in question, said he was "80 percent sure" Weber was the shooter. Later, during the trial, Manza pointed out Weber from the witness stand and said he was certain.
Weber was arrested the day after the shooting, and was caught with two baggies of meth. He claimed to have been at his cousin's house watching videos all night. The cousin corroborated the story, but admitted Weber left twice, for no more than 45 minutes each time, to buy baby formula and beer. A jury didn't buy the alibi, though, and Weber was convicted. In prison he committed an assault, his third strike, which led to the life sentence.
Now, nearly ten years later, attorney Mike Kahrs is convinced Weber was wrongfully accused. Kahrs was assigned to the case by a judge after Weber filed federal habeas corpus petition challenging his conviction. Initially a skeptic, Kahrs was swayed by several inconsistencies that were never brought up by Weber's public defender during the original trial.
-Multiple witnesses described the Guero Loco shooter as having a shaved head. Weber's mugshot, taken the day after the shooting, shows a full head of dark hair.
-Manzo said the shooter aimed the gun with his left hand. Weber is right-handed.
-Police never interviewed a witness at the party identified as "Andreas." Kahrs tracked down Andreas, who turned out to be a man named Andrew Larson, a cousin of the VL member Nicholas Renion and an old friend of Weber's. Larson swore under oath that Weber was not at the party.
-Finally, Manzo said the shooter initially introduced himself as Guero Loco or Boxer. Two other witnesses remembered a person named Guero Loco/Boxer with a 206 neck tattoo at the party. Weber has never gone by the nickname Boxer.
Writing to the state Supreme Court, Kahrs explains:
"Further inquiries into the community developed that a light skinned Hispanic individual, possibly from California, that was hanging out in the neighborhood at the same time and at the same parties had a similar nickname of 'Guero Loco.' However, he also had the nickname of 'Boxer.' Boxer also had many visible tattoos on his neck."This "Boxer," Kahrs claims in one court filing, is Weber's "evil doppelganger."
"I think we actually have an innocent man here," Kahrs says. "Without being there I can't say for sure, but all evidence suggests [Weber] wasn't the shooter."
Kahrs hasn't been able to find a real name for Boxer, a shortcoming to the case that he admits has left skeptics "a little bit incredulous." Still, he points out that 206 neck tattoos are fairly common, and that eyewitness statements are notoriously unreliable. (Of more than 230 individuals exonerated by the Innocence Project, over 175 were convicted based upon flawed eyewitness identification, Kahrs notes in one court filing.)
Weber has asked the state Supreme Court to overturn his original conviction and give him a new trial. He is still awaiting a ruling. In the meantime, Kahrs is working the case pro bono and still taking shots in the dark trying to track down a gang member named Boxer with the Seattle area code tatted on his neck.
"We're trying to get help from good citizens of Seattle to identify this person," Kahrs says. "I was told he got the 206 tattoo but he's not from around here. He's originally from either Southern California or Mexico, but he got it out of respect. He's probably 5-foot-7 or 5-foot-8, with a thin build, and left-handed probably. I heard a rumor that he used to be boxer, but I don't really know."