By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Orosco says that in 1975, in an attempt to keep the languishing case alive, he went to HPD's homicide division to check on the status of the investigation into his father's murder. He was not warmly received. "Basically, I was told to beat it," he says.
Another decade passed with no developments in the investigation, so, Orosco says, he went back to the homicide division. On that occasion, he recalls, he had a pleasant conversation with investigator D.A. McAnulty, now retired from the department. The detective gave Orosco his business card and told him to stay in touch, but held out little hope of finding his father's killer.
And, indeed, nothing happened. By 1993, Orosco's frustration with the police was such that he took it upon himself to track down his father's killer. Orosco, by then a CPA with his own company, hired a private investigator and tried to get the media interested in his father's unsolved murder. Channel 26's Randy Wallace bit, and his report on the mystery sparked renewed interest by Houston police. As the only living eyewitness to the murder (his uncle had died), Orosco was asked by investigators to give a statement that could be used in court -- in the unlikely event that a suspect was ever apprehended.
Wallace's story -- which featured a forensic artist's age-enhanced drawing of a photo of Lott taken prior to the murder -- also piqued the interest of two investigators from the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force, a multiagency team that operates on a state grant and specializes in tracking down fugitives. Investigators from HPD and the task force knew that Lott had served in the military and was from Louisiana, so they decided to have him red-flagged at Veterans Administration hospitals in that state and others. Sure enough, in September 1994, Lott, bearing a striking resemblance to the artist-enhanced photo of his younger self, visited a VA hospital in New Orleans. He was arrested a short time later.
"It was about five in the afternoon when the phone rang and the investigator said they had him," says Orosco. "And I'm like, 'I don't believe it.' It was the happiest day of my life. Anytime I'm down in the dumps I remember that day and feel good."
Orosco must be thinking about that day quite a bit lately.
Last March, he testified at Lott's bond hearing. (The suspect remains in jail, his bond set at $200,000.) Afterward, he watched a news report of the hearing. It included a comment by David Bires, Lott's attorney, that left Orosco dismayed.
"We have a witness [Orosco] that comes forward 30 years after the fact," Bires said. "We have some problems with that."
Orosco went back and reviewed his copy of the statement he gave police in July 1994. To his surprise, he says, he discovered a sentence he believes police added to the document without his knowledge.
"My family has had a difficult time with my father's death and it has not been until recently that I felt that we were prepared to inquire about his death," reads the portion of the statement in question. Orosco was furious. He claims he never told investigators any such thing. He contends he and his family had contacted the police about his father's murder many times over the 30 years prior to Lott's arrest. And he believes police embellished the statement for self-serving reasons.
"They're more concerned about their image and being embarrassed than they are about me and my case," Orosco charges. "They think they're immune [from scrutiny]."
HPD homicide investigator C.P. "Abby" Abbondandolo began re-examining the Orosco case in late 1993. "I guess I was the only one goofy enough to do it," he explains.
It was Abbondandolo who took Orosco's statement in July 1994, and he emphatically denies that it was altered in any way. "I must have wrote that in that mystery ink that only materializes after you sign your name to it," he says.
The detective acknowledges that mistakes were made early on in the Orosco case. But he points out that he was two years old when Al Orosco Sr. was murdered, and he would have no reason to be part of a conspiracy to protect the image of a police department that has undergone tidal changes since 1964. When Lott was finally arrested, he says, it was one of his proudest moments as a police officer.
Orosco also has claimed that approximately $8,000 was taken in the robbery of his father's store, and he suggests that someone other than the robber eventually made off with the money. The money box was recovered nearby on the night of the murder, and, according to a letter from assistant police chief John Gallemore to Orosco, only $174.75 was found in it.
Abbondandolo dismisses Orosco's claims about missing money as a "fish story," and he says he's puzzled that Orosco would jeopardize the case against his father's accused killer by raising a stink about police conduct.
"I really had expected that after the guy was located that there would be a heavy sigh of relief and maybe even a little celebration. Thirty years afterward, the suspect of a crime finally being brought to justice. This is something they write those hokey detective novels out of.