The man convicted of helping a childhood friend and former lover murder his 15-year-old Daly City classmate in 2001 and keeping a photo of his co-defendant hovering over the body was sentenced Friday to 25 years to life in prison.
Reynaldo Maldonado, 35, was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Quetzlcoatl Alba on May 21, 2001, 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.
Defense attorney Paul DeMeester vowed to appeal the conviction returned in November but the prosecution called the guilty verdict and Friday’s lengthy sentence justice for Alba and his loved ones. During the hearing, Alba’s mother also told Maldonado directly how he has ruined many lives, including his own, said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Jurors deliberated roughly three days before convicting Maldonado who was a teenager himself when he and co-defendant Erick Romeo Morales killed Alba and fled Daly City for a decade before being caught. A separate jury convicted Morales, 32, in February of first-degree murder and the special allegation of lying in wait which means, unlike Maldonado, he will have no chance at parole when sentenced April 1.
Maldonado was “sad” by the sentence although it was no surprise, said DeMeester.
“Our position has always been that despite what he might have told police or others, this was Morales’ doing and so hopefully we’ll get to do this again,” said DeMeester, referencing the appeal.
Maldonado contended to jurors that Morales lured Alba to the hangout and killed him before calling Maldonado to hide the bloody evidence of a knife, cellphone and sweatshirt. Maldonado told jurors he complied out of love for Morales, whom he knew from their childhood in Guatemala, and initially lied to Daly City police about someone else being the killer because he feared Morales’ father.
Prosecutor Jeff Finigan told the jury Maldonado held Alba down while Morales stabbed him repeatedly in the neck, arms and torso. 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. Maldonado also possessed a locket containing Morales’ photo.
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 courts grappled with questions over prosecution access to his psychiatric records. The prosecution’s victory became a moot point because Judge Mark Forcum did not allow the mental health evidence into trial.
On Friday, DeMeester said that may be part of the appeal because jurors should have known about his client’s limited mental abilities to better evaluate his demeanor and police statements.
“It’s obviously an incredibly vital issue, this exclusion of brain impairment,” DeMeester said.
Morales did not testify on his own behalf during his own trial but his defense argued that Maldonado was the instigator. Maldonado sexually abused Morales in Guatemala before each separately moved to Daly City where the stalking and intimidation continued, defense attorney Tom Kelley said during trial. In Daly City, Maldonado told Morales a secret Guatemalan police organization wanted him to kill somebody and then committed the crime himself but took the photo of his client hunched over the body either as “proof” for the police or for future blackmail, Kelley said.
Despite the lengthy time it took to get the cases to trial, Wagstaffe said the outcome is worthwhile.
“This has been a long, arduous journey through the criminal justice system and it’s just a shame that it took so long. This is one of those cases where they say justice delayed is justice denied but this time justice persevered,” he said.
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