A former Daly City man accused of helping a childhood friend and former lover murder a teen acquaintance in 2001 before both men went on the lam is guilty of first-degree murder and using a knife in the fatal stabbing, according to jurors who deliberated three days before returning their verdict.
The decision means Reynaldo Maldonado, 34, will spend 25 years to life in prison for the May 21, 2001, death of Quetzlcoatl Alba in a storage unit turned teen hangout at the Westlake Apartments. Jurors rejected a special circumstance of lying in wait which would have made Maldonado ineligible for parole.
Maldonado was “saddened” by the verdict, said defense attorney Paul Demeester, adding that he assured his client he would seek a new trial.
Prosecutor Jeff Finigan said he respected the jury’s verdict and, while he spoke with them generally, they didn’t specifically address how they reached the decision.
Jurors returned the verdict late Tuesday and it was read Wednesday afternoon, roughly three days after they began deliberating which version of events to believe — the prosecution’s theory that Maldonado participated in Alba’s murder or the defense contention that friend Erick Morales killed Alba before calling Maldonado to hide the bloody evidence. Maldonado told jurors he complied out of love for Morales and lied to Daly City police because he feared his father.
Morales, 32, will stand trial next on Jan. 2. The two were arrested separately and lengthy court wrangling over Maldonado’s psychiatric evaluations also help keep the prosecution separate.
Alba’s family was relieved by the conviction but “know they have another one to go,” Finigan said.
A motive in Alba’s death was never clearly offered to jurors and Finigan declined to theorize, citing the upcoming trial of Morales.
Finigan argued Maldonado held Alba down while Morales stabbed him repeatedly in the neck, arms and torso. Maldonado testified Morales called him to the scene after killing Alba and asked him to hide the knife, a cellphone and a sweatshirt. Both men were eyed as suspects but each left Daly City shortly after the murder. Maldonado eventually ended up in Florida where, according to his friend Mario Cajina, he confessed to the killing and showed a photo taken of Morales standing over Alba’s body. Maldonado would later claim to have taken the photograph as evidence of who committed the crime.
Cajina tipped off Daly City police who found the buried items in the men’s former Daly City backyard. During trial, Demeester contended Cajina lied to police about Maldonado’s involvement because he was angry at having been kicked out of their shared home.
In 2007, authorities extradited Maldonado who tried escaping his armed guards at San Francisco International Airport by jumping 25 feet over a concrete railing while still handcuffed.
In 2009, two years after Maldonado’s arrest, Morales was apprehended after an East Coast traffic stop revealed his identity.
Maldonado’s prosecution was then delayed for four years as questions over access to his psychiatric records wound through the upper courts. Prosecutors wanted access to the evaluations because they anticipated a psychiatric defense. Demeester had argued it was privileged unless Maldonado first presented his own mental health evidence but the California Supreme Court ruled last year in favor of the prosecution. However, Forcum ruled in pretrial motions the defense could not use evidence of any mental disorder and upheld the decision after Maldonado’s testimony.
On Wednesday after the verdict was read, Demeester said keeping the information of lifelong brain impairment from jurors may be one prong of his request for a new trial and appeal.
“He is in the borderline mentally retarded range so had the jury heard that it may have evaluated his testimony differently, evaluated his demeanor and statements to police differently and may have been in a position to consider everything differently,” Demeester said.
Maldonado and Morales are both in custody without bail.
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