Suspect in Tim Casagrande's Fresno kidnap tried clearing his name before arrest

The Fresno BeeFebruary 19, 2014 

Days before arresting Renard Brooks, Fresno police detective Ben Barnes was pretty sure he was the suspect in a violent kidnapping last October.

Brooks had requested a meeting with his parole agent on Oct. 8. It was a day after Brooks' photo was taken at a credit union ATM where the PIN number and card of a kidnap victim, former county environmental health director Tim Casagrande, had been used.

Brooks, 27, faces felony charges in connection with the Oct. 7 kidnapping and robbery of Casagrande, which started in Casagrande's northeast Fresno home. If convicted, Brooks faces life in prison.

On Oct. 8, Brooks had met his parole agent to tell him he had been at a family friend's home in southeast Fresno the entire previous day. The meeting came after Brooks' family members had seen a grainy photo in local news reports and told him that the suspect looked like him. Brooks was already on parole for prior convictions of carjacking, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and driving reckless to evade police, according to court documents.

His parole agent called Barnes, who interviewed Brooks in connection with the kidnapping case.

But Barnes, testifying to a Fresno County jury on Wednesday, said he did not arrest Brooks. When Brooks walked into the interview room, "my first initial reaction was, this is the guy in the video," Barnes said. "Here's my suspect." But at that point, Barnes had no evidence tying Brooks to the crime.

Because the video image from the credit union was grainy, Barnes asked Brooks if he would agree to having a photograph taken. Brooks allowed it, he said.

As the next few days passed, evidence against Brooks mounted, he said.

It was after that meeting at the parole office that Barnes had Casagrande's car, which was in a tow company's storage, moved to the state Department of Justice criminal laboratory to look for fingerprints, DNA and other potential evidence.

Casagrande and his wife, Alison, who saw Brooks near their house, were shown a photo lineup of six potential assailants and pointed immediately to Brooks.

Photos also were shown in court Wednesday of Brooks using FAX buses, leaving one bus a few blocks from the Casagrande home about 10 minutes before the crime occurred and boarding a bus in southwest Fresno 18 minutes after Casagrande's car was found in the same neighborhood.

When Brooks was arrested on Oct. 14, he was wearing Casagrande's wedding ring on a gold chain necklace.

Brooks told Barnes that the ring only equated to possession of stolen property and wasn't proof that he had committed a violent offense.

"I will have my day in court," Brooks said repeatedly during an interrogation after the arrest.

Department of Justice experts are expected to testify Thursday about their findings from the car.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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