By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
In a fortunate bit of timing, police interviewed one of Medrano's friends soon after his arrest. The friend mentioned that Medrano was in custody somewhere. Investigators ran Medrano's name through the National Crime Index, and there he was, in the Spartanburg County jail in South Carolina.
Inspector Newland and Sgt. Mario Molina arrived there on Sept. 24, 2009, to extradite Medrano. They asked him where Reyes was. The link was Saran-wrap clear: Out of nowhere, a Bay Area MS-13 member evading arrest materialized 2,600 miles away in the rural city where Reyes' mother lived.
Medrano told the policemen that Reyes was probably in Guatemala. He did give them his own address, though — the duplex with "Samuel Carrillo" on the lease.
This is where the dots should have connected. The SFPD already had reason to suspect that Reyes was in South Carolina: Reyes' family's address was accessible, as they'd stayed in the same house for years; phone records showed his San Francisco girlfriend had called a South Carolina area code; and now Medrano popped up there.
The MS-13 car theft police report contained proof that Reyes was nearby. It provided names of people who knew Medrano, and so likely also knew Reyes. One of those names, Medrano's roommate, "Samuel Carrillo," was listed as an emergency contact on a South Carolina lease shared by Reyes' mother and Reyes' San Francisco girlfriend. Duncan police had video of Reyes holding a "Samuel Carrillo" ID. Moreover, the victim on that police report, Denise, had allegedly even spoken to Reyes about the Bologna murders.
"It would have been easy information to pick up," says Frank Jordan, who served as San Francisco chief of police before becoming mayor. "It doesn't hurt to talk to as many people as possible. You gotta cover as much ground as you can as quickly as you can, while the leads are still hot."
Yet during their two-day stay in South Carolina, the city's policemen did not question any of those people except Medrano. They did not dig into Duncan PD's investigation of the car theft. So they did not see the videos and photos of Reyes, and they did not know about the "Samuel Carrillo" fake ID.
"Common sense would dictate that all of a sudden an MS-13 associate pops up in Greenville, you gotta start knocking on all doors," says Flynn, the retired detective. "There's not a reason in the world the investigators should not have done that."
Newland would later testify that he gave the Greenville Sheriff's Department an "Attempt to Locate" flier on Reyes. Greenville Deputy Brandon Browne would later say that he didn't remember seeing it.
At the Ramos trial, Teal testified that he mailed the San Francisco DA's office a package containing the documents related to the Medrano case, including the footage and photographs of Reyes. Assistant DA Harry Dorfman, who handled the murder case, stated under oath that he never received that package. To this day, what happened to it remains a mystery.
Ramos' defense team's case hinged on the theory that Reyes was the shooter. With Reyes nowhere to be found, though, it was a challenging narrative to present. When Ramos' state-appointed attorney, Marla Zamora, heard about Medrano's South Carolina arrest, it piqued her interest. This offered the first real possibility to corroborate a key portion of Ramos' story, that Reyes was in the passenger seat.
The only witness to identify Ramos as the triggerman, Andrew Bologna, had stated that he could only see one person in the car. To convince a jury that Reyes held the gun, Zamora first needed to prove that Bologna's recollection wasn't completely accurate. If he couldn't see the man in the passenger seat, her argument went, how could he know whose hand was holding the gun?
But Zamora faced a critical obstacle. As a state-appointed attorney, she received just $40,000 in public funds for the defense. For a complex triple-homicide, gang-related case like this — which would produce more than 40,000 pages of transcripts and nearly 5,000 items in evidentiary discovery — that sum hardly covered the cost of expert witnesses. A cross-country fishing expedition for Reyes was out of Zamora's financial reach. As the court proceedings dragged on, she filed three motions for more funding. All three were denied. Zamora says that she took on five or six other cases to help subsidize Ramos' defense.
Just before opening arguments were set to begin, in early 2012, Zamora's fourth motion for funding was granted — more than $100,000 from the state bar. Days into the trial, the defense team's private investigator, Tim O'Brien, departed for South Carolina.
Like the SFPD contingent, O'Brien spent two days there. Unlike the SFPD contingent, he returned to the Bay Area with substantial evidence that Reyes had been hiding in Greenville, and with information that could definitively tie him to the murders.
During his stay, O'Brien knocked on the doors of Reyes' relatives. Reyes' sister confirmed that he recently had been living in Greenville, crying as she explained that her brother had always been the black sheep of the family. Reyes' uncle told O'Brien that his nephew was never the same kid after he went off to California all those years ago.