A former Daly City teen who prosecutors contend lured a 15-year-old classmate to his fatal stabbing death in a storage unit before going on the lam for 13 years was convicted of first-degree murder and the special allegation he waited for his victim.
The combination means Erick Morales, 32, will be sentenced to life in prison without parole for the May 21, 2001, death of Quetzalcoatl Alba.
The defense for Morales, who did not testify during the two-week trial, pointed the finger instead at his childhood friend, Reynaldo Maldonado, who was separately convicted of murder in November. Attorney Tom Kelley said Maldonado sexually abused, threatened and urged Morales to kill Alba to appease an alleged secret Guatemalan police organization. When Morales balked, Maldonado committed the crime but took a photo of his client hunched over the body either as “proof” for the police or for future blackmail, Kelley said.
After the verdict was reached, Kelley said he heard from jurors that they “immediately” rejected the prosecution theory he was the stabber and accepted the idea he was “terrorized” by Maldonado but that the aiding and abetting law left them with little option other than a conviction.
“They tended to believe him almost completely but the problem is the law tied their hands in terms of what they could do,” Kelley said. “One [juror] said it’s not a happy day for anybody.”
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, however, called the conviction “justice for this family” and that it “very clearly shows that the jury believed the primary move was Mr. Morales.”
Jurors returned the verdict on the fourth day of deliberations during which they were left to decide if Morales, through the actual killing or helping Maldonado, was guilty of murder and if he lured Alba to the Westlake Apartments complex storage area local teens used as a hangout.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Jeff Finigan told jurors Morales and Maldonado both killed Alba although nobody outside themselves may ever know why.
The two men knew each other as children in Guatemala where they had a sexual relationship and separately ended up in Daly City. Morales attended school with Alba and was the last person spotted with him before his body was discovered by two classmates. Morales told police he barely knew Alba but the two had exchanged dozens of phone calls including one the night before he was stabbed repeatedly.
The month after the murder, 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 in 2009 after a DUI traffic stop on Long Island revealed his true identity.
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 and Morales April 1.
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