The attorney for the man accused of kidnapping former Fresno County Tim Casagrande painted a case of mistaken identity during the start of a criminal trial Tuesday.
But prosecutors said they plan to show plenty of evidence that points at Renard Brooks Jr. as the kidnapper, from an ATM surveillance photo to incriminating fingerprints left on a bus ticket found in Casagrande's car after the crime spree.
Brooks, 27, faces nine felony charges in connection with the October kidnapping and robbing of Casagrande, the county's former environmental health director. If convicted, Brooks faces life in prison.
In opening statements of the trial, prosecutor Monica Diaz and attorney Kathy Marousek, who is defending Brooks, said they agree on much of the evidence.
On the morning of Oct. 7, Casagrande had just said goodbye to his wife, who was headed to work, when an armed intruder entered his northeast Fresno home near Clovis West High School.
The intruder shoved Casagrande face down on his bed and pointed a gun at his head. The intruder blindfolded Casagrande, tied his hands behind his back and ordered him to tell where jewelry, guns and money were hidden in the house. Casagrande complied because the intruder falsely told him that his friends had kidnapped Casagrande's wife, Diaz said.
After ransacking the home, the intruder shoved Casagrande and the loot into Casagrande's car and drove off.
Around 9:25 a.m., Casagrande's debit card was used to withdraw money from an automated teller machine at the Fresno County Federal Credit Union in downtown Fresno. Diaz said the ATM's surveillance camera video shows Brooks withdrawing $300.
The prosecutor said Brooks then drove Casagrande around Fresno before leaving Casagrande and his car in a southwest Fresno alley. After Casagrande escaped, he borrowed a cell phone from a woman and called his wife to see if she was OK and then police.
The investigation soon took detectives to the credit union, and police released the ATM image to media.
At the time, Brooks was on parole for prior convictions of carjacking, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and driving reckless to evade police, court records say.
Diaz said Brooks' family and friends told him that he looked like the suspect in the ATM image and urged him to clear his name with his parole officer. Diaz said Brooks talked to detectives, telling them he was with a female friend at the time Casagrande was attacked.
But police said they found evidence that Brooks took a city bus to a stop near Casagrande's home on the morning of the crime. The bus was equipped with surveillance cameras, and when police showed Brooks a bus surveillance image, he said: "That's me."
When Brooks was arrested on Oct. 14, he was wearing Casagrande's wedding ring on a gold chain necklace, Diaz said. Brooks also left his fingerprints on a bus ticket that was found in Casagrande's car, the prosecutor said.
In addition, Casagrande's wife, who had noticed a stranger walking in the neighborhood as she drove to work, later identified Brooks from a police photo lineup, Diaz said. Casagrande also identified Brooks from the lineup, Diaz said.
But Marousek said the ATM image is blurry and questioned whether Casagrande and his wife got a good look at the stranger.