The former Daly City teen convicted of killing his classmate in 2001 before going on the lam for a decade until a routine East Coast traffic stop uncovered his identity was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Erick Romeo Morales, 32, apologized for the death of Quetzlecoatl Alba, 15, and the pain and suffering it caused the teen’s family but did not admit any responsibility for the murder.
“I do ask that perhaps someday that they can forgive me but I didn’t do anything to their family member,” Morales said during the sentencing.
Throughout the trial and Tuesday’s hearing, Morales’ defense pointed the finger at Reynaldo Maldonado who was separately convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Unlike Maldonado, Morales was also found guilty of lying in wait to commit the murder which made him ineligible for parole.
Although the judge had no discretion in sentencing Morales Tuesday, Alba’s family still took the opportunity to first share with the court what his death and the years of waiting for justice has meant.
Morales caused “13 years of fear, grief and uncertainty” that no amount of restitution or prison time can compensate, said Kristin Sanchez, Alba’s sister-in-law who spoke on behalf of the family. Sanchez said Alba’s mother was “debilitated by grief” and died only a few years after her son. Facing Morales, Sanchez asked him to spend time reflecting on why he could commit such savagery against a boy who did nothing to him and said the family still wants to know why.
That lack of knowing is the saddest aspect of the case, said Judge Mark Forcum who called it “one of the most troubling” of his judicial career.
“None of this should have ever happened,” Forcum said.
Alba was found fatally stabbed in a storage unit at the Westlake Apartments in Daly City that teenagers used as a hangout. Morales, 19, 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.
Morales did not testify during the two-week trial but his defense built a case against Maldonado. The men were childhood friends in Guatemala and, after moving separately to Daly City, maintained a relationship. Defense 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.
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. He was sentenced in early March.
Even at sentencing Tuesday, the defense and prosecution differed on whether Morales was a victim of Morales’ harassment and stalking or the aggressor with a previous sexual assault history who picked Alba as victim and still has no remorse.
“He is not a victim. He did this to himself,” prosecutor Jeff Finigan said.
Kelley said the situation was best described by one juror after the guilty verdict was returned.
“There’s no happy ending in this case,” Kelley said.
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