Minnesota man seeks to block photo line-up ID from trial

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AUBURN — A Minnesota man facing a September trial on robbery and assault charges is seeking to have the results of a photo lineup thrown out.

Fernando Novas De La Cruz, 24, of Detroit Lakes, Minn., had been staying for a short time on Knox Street in Lewiston when he was arrested in April.

Police said he was driving a car on April 15 near Victor News variety store on Park Street in Lewiston when he pulled to a stop shortly before 11 p.m. John Katula, 39, told police that a back-seat passenger jumped out of the car, ran toward him, pulled a gun and pointed it at his face. The man yelled a racial slur and demanded Katula’s backpack, according to a sworn police affidavit.

Katula told police he raised his arm to block the man’s hand, but was struck in the mouth and on the jaw. The man was later identified as a juvenile teen who was arrested, but has not been named due to his age.

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The driver of the car was later identified from a photo lineup as Novas De La Cruz, who got out of the car and kicked Katula in the ribs, he told police.

Katula was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and admitted, police said. He was later released.

Novas De La Cruz was held at Androscoggin County Jail on $15,000 cash, which was later reduced to $5,000.

He was indicted in June by an Androscoggin County grand jury on a Class A felony charge, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. He also was charged with a misdemeanor assault charge, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 364 days in jail.

Novas De La Cruz’s court-appointed attorney, Allan Lobozzo, filed a motion to suppress the photo lineup identification of his client by Lewiston police. Novas De La Cruz and another male named an assailant were identified by the victim through photographs.

The person identified by Katula as the second assailant, or the driver, was “a black male with an afro-style hair,” Lobozzo quoted the police report of the detective who administered the photo lineup.

“In general parlance, ‘afro’ connotes longish, ‘bushy” hair,” Lobozzo wrote in his motion. “Of the six photos, two of the candidates definitely have hair on the short side (Nos. 1 and 4). The photos of 2, 5 and 6 are just poor quality (fuzzy, out of focus) in particular 5 and 6. Thus, the only photo of high quality, and of a male sporting an afro-style cut, is Mr. (Novas) De La Cruz.”

A judge ruled in favor of the defendant on an earlier motion he filed for a speedy trial. Lobozzo had argued his client had no family in the area and had no history of violence. The motion also cited the victim’s status as the target of prosecution “for cultivation of hundreds of marijuana plants in an urban jungle setting, calling into question his mental state at the time of the alleged offense.”

The defendant is scheduled for a September trial, which is when a hearing on the suppression motion is expected to be held.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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