Although prosecutors concealed evidence that would have bolstered a gang member’s claim that he killed a gang rival in self-defense, an appeals court said Monday the error was not sufficiently serious to overturn the murder conviction.
In 2004, Marcos Reis-Campos, an 18-year-old Norteno gang member, shot 35-yea-old Luis Fuentes, the leader of the Mara Salvatrucha gang in San Francisco, as Fuetes walked on the sidewalk with his 6-year-old son.
Reis-Campos shot Fuentes six times in the head and back. Prosecutors called Fuentes’ son as a witness, an eye witness to the shooting and Reis-Campos’ cellmate, who said Reis-Campos confided that he had confronted Fuentes and after Fuentes pulled and knife, Reis-Campos chased him down and shot him.
Prosecutors also asked San Francisco Police Sergeant Mario Molina, a gang expert and case investigator to testify. Molina testified he was unaware of Fuentes’ high rank and MS-13 and knew him through soccer games at a local playground. The prosecution portrayed Fuentes as a house painter and “family man.”
Molina also testified that the Fuentes killing would help Reis-Campos rise in Norteno ranks.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the murder conviction although the pael criticized Molina’s testimony. Jurors heard testimony that Fuentes was a “shot caller” of MS-13, a violent street gang with convictions for murders in San Francisco and southern California.
The John Owens pointed out that Molina had worked on a large-scale MS-13 investigation from 2005-2008, which led to a multi-count indictment and he learned that Fuentes had orchestrated the murder of a Norteno in Daly City in a revenge killing.
“The prosecutor’s withholding of information and Molina’s false testimony are very troubling,” Owens wrote. ‘Yet ‘troubling’ is not the relevant standard.” The failure did not “materially change the already negative and violent depiction of Fuentes,” he said.
“We assume that the prosecution should have disclosed this additional information about Fuentes’ violent nature, and the state has no good answer as to why it did not,” Owens wrote.
But ultimately, the claim for a new trial under federal law is an extremely difficult standard and the panel concluded Reis-Campos’ trial was not prejudiced by Molina’s withholding of helpful testimony.
Joining Owens in the opinion were Judges Clifford Wallace and Mary Schroeder.
Case: Reis-Campos v. Biter, No. 15-15683