Ambushed by SLO law and order
April 9, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
A Morro Bay man wrongly accused of two robberies now attributed to the notorious and just-captured “Sleeves Bandit” remains in county jail as San Luis Obispo police and district attorney’s officials seek a graceful exit from a potentially embarrassing case of mistaken identity.
Despite a clear resemblance between the two men, a preponderance of evidence has been presented in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court strongly suggesting that 49-year-old Freddy Haworth was not responsible for two November 8 armed robberies, one at Starbucks on South Higuera, and another at San Luis Floral and Gifts on Marsh Street.
Sources reported Michael Anthony Koselka, 54, the so-called “Sleeves Bandit,” snagged in Marysville Wednesday, confessed to the armed robberies of which Haworth is accused. But none of this has kept San Luis Obispo Police Capt. Ian Parkinson and Det. Erik Vitale from questioning a judge’s decision to dismiss Allen case.
Some striking similarities exist between the bank robberies committed by the “Sleeves Bandit” and those attributed to Haworth. Asked why investigators did not connect the robberies to the “Sleeves Bandit,” Parkinson said, “We did look into it. We had concerns. I can’t discuss an open case.”
Parkinson is the only declared candidate for sheriff in the wake of Sheriff Pat Hedges’ announced departure at the end of his current term in 2010.
At a Thursday preliminary hearing, prosecutors asked that the hearing be delayed until Friday.
Following the robberies, KSBY-TV aired a tape of the Starbucks holdup showing an older man wearing a hat, large sunglasses, and what appeared to be tattoo sleeves. Very little of his face can be seen. Haworth’s estranged sister saw the news that night and called police to say that she suspected the robber to be her brother.
Police arrested Haworth in Oregon a few days after the robbery. Throughout a lengthy interrogation, Haworth professed his innocence, insisting that he was out of town when the crimes were committed. Three witnesses would later confirm that Haworth was, indeed, in a different part of the state at the time. Haworth asked for, and received, a polygraph examination. He passed. And phone records soon demonstrated that at least Haworth’s cell phone was out of town on November 8.
Employees from both establishments pointed to Haworth as the armed robber in photo lineups. However, two employees of Starbuck’s told police the robber had colorful tattoos extending from his wrists to his upper arms. (Haworth has one lone black and dark blue tattoo of a cross on his forearm.) The employees also described the pain they endured when the robber assaulted them with pepper spray.
During the January 22 preliminary hearing, Starbuck’s employee Kathryn Neely said she couldn’t see Haworth’s arms from the witness stand, but she could clearly see his face, and that she made mental notes of the robber during the criminal act.
“As I recall, there was a mole that I remember was distinctive,” Neely said at the hearing. “It just kind of stuck in my mind. The shape, I guess.”
Another Starbuck’s employee, Sarah Bertino, who had previously told police during the initial investigation that the robber had “colorful” tattoos on his arms, was brought into the courtroom for questioning. During her testimony, Haworths bare arms were clearly visible from the witness stand.
Deputy District Attorney Cheryll Manley asked Bertino if she had seen any tattoos on the robber, and if she could to describe them.
“They were black,” Bertino said. “I don’t remember exactly what they were, because they were faded.” Manley then reminded Bertino that she had described the tattoos differently during her interviews with police.
“Yes, there was some color in them, but the color had faded,” Bertino responded.
Shortly after the hearing, Haworth’s attorney, Jay Peterson, asked Manley to request a dismissal of the case. The prosecutor agreed, and Peterson pushed to free his client quickly.
At a subsequent hearing, Manley said she would not move to dismiss on that particular day, claiming to need time for researching additional evidence. According to court records, the only evidence prompting the delay was a review by Scott Odom of the polygraph done by Larry Hobson, which Haworth passed “with flying colors.”
At a hearing later that month, charges were dismissed.
Haworth was then released from San Luis Obispo County Jail, but under a cloud of suspicion. Media reports from the district attorney’s office claimed “insufficient evidence” prompted the release, neglecting to mention that evidence weighed heavily in support of Haworth’s claim of innocence.
Haworth’s freedom was short-lived. Less than a month later, Parkinson and Vitale met with Assistant District Attorneys Dan Hilford and Manley to question why Manley had agreed to dismiss charges against Haworth.
“It is my understanding that Vitale and Parkinson both went to meet with Hilford to personally force the re-filing,” Peterson said.
The district attorney’s office agreed to re-file charges and added an additional count of burglary to Haworth’s list of alleged crimes. (Haworth admits he broke into a vacant house owned by his uncle to pilfer a stack of family photos in October.)
Nevertheless, if the theft of photos had been the only charge filed against Haworth, he would have likely gotten out of jail on his own recognizance or on an affordable bail amount. At the time of his second arrest, Haworth had recently started a new job.
Parkinson asserts that he questioned the decision to dismiss after complaints from the robberies’ victims that the man they identified, though much of his face was covered, had been released.
On February 15, SLO police officers escorted Haworth back to jail where he remains today in lieu of $100,000 bail.
Deputy District Attorney Cunningham took the reins from Manley, who apparently was demoted to “kiddie court” shortly after she agreed to dismiss the charges against Haworth.
At another hearing in late March, Cunningham tried to block results of the polygraph from the impending trial through a motion to dismiss. Superior Court Judge Roger Randall denied the request.
On Tuesday, investigators informed police that the “Sleeves Bandit” had confessed to the robberies Haworth is accused of, Parkinson added. The department sent a detective to interview the suspect.
Haworth’s preliminary hearing is slated for 8:30 a.m. Friday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.