A murder defendant’s claims that a childhood lover killed his 15-year-old classmate in Daly City 13 years ago on the orders of a secret Guatemalan police outfit is a “fantastic” story that, even if true, does not clear him of responsibility for at the very least luring the teen to his death, a prosecutors told jurors Monday afternoon.
“You cannot kill an innocent person because you’re being threatened. That’s the law,” prosecutor Jeff Finigan said in the closing argument of Erick Morales’ murder trial.
Finigan said Morales and Reynaldo Maldonado, who was already convicted of the murder last year, both killed Quetzlcoatl Alba in a storage facility used by teenagers as a hang out. Finigan conceded that “we don’t really know” why Alba was stabbed to death repeatedly in what he characterized as a bloody and violent struggle but that the jury needn’t have that answer to reach the conclusion he is guilty of first-degree murder and lying in wait for his victim.
But defense attorney Tom Kelley painted a different picture, one of Morales fearing Maldonado and his claims that a police group known as S2 wanted him to kill somebody. Morales, who Kelley said was sexually assaulted and stalked by Maldonado from their young days in Guatemala through their individual arrivals in Daly City, refused to participate in a murder but allowed a photo of himself to be taken hunched over the body as “proof” for the S2. That photograph was found in Maldonado’s possession after his arrest and Finigan said it showed the then-teenager’s involvement in part because it shows him wearing a bloody sweatshirt excavated from his backyard years later.
Kelley said the photograph is only a “picture of Mr. Morales over a body” and does not show him stabbing anyone.
Morales never testified himself about his relationship with Maldonado and what exactly happened to Alba on May 21, 2001. Instead, jurors heard taped police interviews shortly after the murder and in 2009 after Morales was apprehended following a traffic stop on Long Island.
Two days after Alba’s friends found his body in the Westlake Apartments storage room, Morales told Daly City police he only knew the victim from school and they were “barely even friends.” However, Morales was the last person seen with Alba and between May 1, 2001, and May 20, 2001, the two exchanged 57 phone calls, including a nearly three-minute conversation the night before Alba’s death which Finigan said showed evidence of plotting and luring.
During Maldonado’s trial, Finigan told jurors that Maldonado held Alba down while Morales stabbed him repeatedly in the neck, arms and torso. He was less specific in Morales’ trial but said the murder took both teens because Alba was much bigger.
After his body was found, both defendants disappeared and the case grew cold until 2007 when a Florida friend of Maldonado contacted authorities to report he had confessed the murder and shared the photo of Morales and the body. The tipster also said the murder weapon, Morales’ bloody sweatshirt and Alba’s cellphone were buried in the yard of Morales’ childhood home on Miriam Street. Police dug up a tin can containing the items and extradited Maldonado from Florida. Morales followed two years later but the two were tried separately because of legal wrangling over Maldonado’s mental ability to stand trial.
In closing arguments Tuesday, Kelley disputed that the found sweatshirt is the same worn by his client in the photograph and told jurors the question is not if the S2 actually exists but if an impressionable then-teen boy believed it. Other than that, Kelley said, “there is no evidence ... to suggest he would take it upon himself to end that young man’s life.”
Morales faces life in prison without parole if convicted of first-degree murder plus lying in wait for his victim. Jurors were also given the option of second-degree murder.
Jurors deliberated three days in November before convicting Maldonado of murder but rejected the special allegation of lying in wait that would have negated the possibility of parole.
Morales and Maldonado both remain in custody without bail. Maldonado will be sentenced March 7.
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