Justice Delayed

A son's claims of police misconduct may jeopardizea 30-year-old case againsthis father's accused killer

Alfonso Orosco Jr. agonized for more than 30 years while waiting to learn if authorities would catch up with the man who shot his father to death -- a killing Orosco witnessed as an 11-year-old.

Last September, police finally arrested 63-year-old Ora David Lott in New Orleans and brought him back to Houston to stand trial for the 1964 murder of Alfonso Orosco Sr. As the lone surviving eyewitness to the slaying, Alfonso Orosco Jr. is looking forward to the day he can take the stand and finger Lott as the man he saw gun down his father during a robbery on the city's northeast side.

It's a story with the makings of a good pulp potboiler -- a son keeps the faith for three decades, then is able to help bring his father's killer to justice. Except the story of Al Orosco Jr. is not quite that neat, and lately it has taken on the more complex trappings of a Greek tragedy.

In an effort to revive the shelved investigation of his father's killing, Orosco gave the Houston Police Department a sworn statement last summer detailing what he witnessed during the murder. But Orosco now claims that investigators changed his statement without his knowledge to deflect potential criticism about the department's taking 30 years to make an arrest -- and possibly letting the suspect slip through its fingers once, and perhaps twice, in the meantime. The rift between Orosco and police has grown to the point that his value as the prosecution's star witness against Lott may be critically diminished. And at this point, Orosco sounds like he's prepared to watch his father's accused killer go free over a personal point of pride.

"I'm not going to perjure myself," says Orosco, now 42. "I'll cut him loose first. And I've already told them that."

On July 19, 1964, Al Orosco Jr. went to Mass at Holy Name Catholic Church with his mother, father, brother and two sisters. After church, while his father went to work, the rest of the family picnicked at Moody Park. Around dusk -- Orosco can still recall the brilliant red and orange sunset that day -- Orosco's father came to the park to collect the family. Orosco then accompanied his father to Orosco Wholesale Supply, the beer and soft drinks store his father and uncle ran on Liberty Road.

Business was good for the Orosco brothers, averaging close to $8,000 a week in receipts, according to Al Orosco Jr. At the close of business each day, Al Orosco Sr. and his brother, Lupe, would take the cash from their register and place it inside a longneck-beer box. Each Sunday night, they would take their money home and count it.

On the last Sunday night that Al Orosco Sr. would check his cash register, his son was playing inside the store when several fire trucks, their sirens blasting, roared past. They were responding to an alarm box that had been pulled down the street. The younger Orosco ran out the front door to see what the commotion was about. But there was no fire, and he headed back inside the store.

"I walked back in and I got me a good 90-degree look at him," Orosco says of the man he found pointing a gun at his father. "I saw him and he didn't see me, so I started to back up. I was going to go back out the door."

But the gunman caught sight of him and called him over. His uncle, who was standing at the end of the counter, grabbed him as the robber, a large black man, continued to point his gun at Orosco's father, who was standing behind the register. When the gunman asked for money, Orosco recalls, his father picked up the longneck box and set it on the counter. The bandit then asked for his father's wallet.

"My father was using both of his hands as he pulled his wallet out and handed it over," says Orosco. "But then it slipped out of his hands and the weapon discharged."

The gunman grabbed the wallet and box of money and ran as Orosco's father, a bullet in his chest, slumped into a chair behind the counter. Orosco watched as his father bled to death.

Six detectives were assigned to the case. Their investigation soon led to a search for Ora David Lott, but Lott's trail already was cold. A few years passed, no arrest was made. Then, in 1970, for some reason that is inexplicable today, the prosecutor assigned to the case asked a judge to drop the charges against Lott. He did.

Two years later, Houston police received an inquiry from authorities in Florida, who had an Ora David Lott in custody. They said they understood that Lott was wanted for murder in Houston. But since the case had been dismissed, there was no warrant for Lott's arrest. When Houston police finally realized that the charge against Lott had been dropped, the suspect had been released and was on the move again.

Today, investigators acknowledge that the case was bungled in 1972, but they blame it on the decision by the district attorney's office to drop the charges and the fact that HPD records were not computerized at the time. According to Orosco, an HPD detective has since told him that Lott also may have eluded capture in a similar fashion when he was detained by New Orleans police around the same time.

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