Soon after Ben was arrested he spent his entire savings, mostly coming from his GI Bill, to hire a private attorney, Peter Ettenberg. His attorney, in turn, hired a pair of private investigators, Nancy Martinez and Robert Hammack.
These investigators identified alibi witnesses and a likelier suspect. In the late fall when it became clear that Ben’s case was going to be more complicated and entail more investigation that initially thought, Ettenberg held a conference with Ben’s sisters that included Hammack. Upon learning that Ben’s family was unable to come up with additional funds Ettenberg discharged the private investigators even though they wanted to follow up on the case. Ettenberg was able to negotiate a plea bargain under which LaGuer would have been released from prison as early as 1985. LaGuer turned down the offer. Ettenberg ended up going to trial ill prepared.
Among the points that weren’t properly aired in front of the jury are:
There was a likelier suspect who’s was near in age to LaGuer (five years older), whose mother had lived in the building where the crime occurred and who had a history of sexual misconduct. The police never questioned this man and Ettenberg failed to properly investigate him.
The report identified several alibi witnesses who were with Ben on the evening of July 12 during the timeframe of when the crime reportedly commenced. They were interviewed by the news media after the conviction and reported that they would have testified but that they weren’t contacted at the time of the trial.
The investigators’ report stated that the victim had been under mental health treatment for fourteen years prior to the crime. Yet Ettenberg didn’t gather enough information about the victim’s mental condition to counter a move early in the trial by the prosecutor to keep that information from the jury.
The investigators uncovered evidence from a hospital matron that police had shown the victim only one photo (LaGuer’s) rather than an array of photos as the police reported. LaGuer’s attorney failed to seek the hospital matron’s testimony.
LaGuer’s attorney never visited the crime scene prior to trial. Had he done so he would have known that testimony given by the detective that the victim’s window was 20 feet off the ground was incorrect.