Miranda ‘loophole’: CA police use gang enforcers to win cellmate confessions

Interior of a California jail cell

Emily Hoerner / Injustice Watch

In several California jails, gang enforcers were put in cells with murder suspects to encourage them to plead. Here, a look inside a Cook County jail cell.

Southern California authorities freed two enforcers for a violent state prison gang who were facing life sentences and paid them more than $339,000 to work as professional jailhouse informants. Their job was to elicit confessions from uncharged suspects in hard-to-solve murder cases, mainly involving street gangs. They got paid whether they got confessions or not.

The former enforcers for the Mexican Mafia were successful enough that police agencies in six California counties used them in an estimated 300 undercover jail operations over six years starting in late 2010 or early 2011, records show.

Confessions were sometimes easy to obtain. Some young hoodlums were so anxious to impress Mexican Mafia veterans with tales of their ferocity that they exaggerated their roles in killings, claiming sole credit when evidence clearly showed the murder had been a group activity. “I beat that fool to death,’’ one such street gang member boasted, according to a transcript of his recorded conversation. “I burned that fool.” When the informant asked why—“Why did you kill the fool, fool?” he asked, using a form of address common among Southern California Latino street gang members. “Is he an enemy?” The suspect affirmed “enemy,” and the case was effectively closed.

Investigations that expose, influence and inform. Emailed directly to you.


But confessions did not always flow, and in several cases, court records show, the enforcers-turned-informants—like other Southern California jailhouse informants before them—resorted to death threats to provoke suspects to talk. They claimed suspects were on “green light” lists of inmates that Mexican Mafia leaders had ordered killed because they were believed to have broken a Mexican Mafia rule. But if they confessed—admitting the killing of which they were suspected but denying that they had broken the rule—the enforcers-turned informants could go to bat for them and have them removed from the lists.

Despite a longstanding U.S. Supreme Court decision that banned confessions obtained under this kind of duress as inherently unreliable, the informants employed death threats with the apparent approval of police, the acquiescence of prosecutors, and, in some cases, no objections from the defense. In the best-documented case, the defendant accepted a generous plea bargain rather than challenge the admissibility of his confession in court.

Civil liberties groups and the California criminal defense bar have been facing an uphill battle to rein in such conduct. The ACLU and the Northern California Innocence project sponsored a bill that sought to limit the attractiveness of becoming a professional informant by capping the pay at $100 per case.

Raymond Cuevas and Jose Paredes, who initially worked for leniency in their own cases and relatively cushy jail accommodations, were accustomed to earning fees as high as $3,000.

Headshot of Tony Rackauckas

Tony Rackauckas

Tony Rackauckas

But prosecutors’s groups successfully blocked the bill, calling it an unwise attempt to restrict what they saw as a useful investigative tool for penetrating violent criminal subcultures such as those of street gangs affiliated with the Mexican Mafia. They also argued that additional discovery burdens called for in the bill would endanger future informants in the mold of Cuevas and Paredes by revealing too much information about them.

Now, the ACLU has turned to the court system to try to gain restraints that they failed to win through the legislature. The lawsuit, filed last month against the Orange County sheriff and Orange County district attorney, contends officials had conducted an illegal informant program for years and withheld details from defendants and the courts.

The lawsuit states of the tactics used by the informants, including the “green light” warnings: “The threats these informants made and continue to make are plain, they are explicit, and they are unconstitutional”; and while officials knew of the threats, they withheld that information.

As it was, some defendants who allegedly confessed to Cuevas and Paredes never even learned their names. Even in cases where they testified, Cuevas and Paredes were sometimes referred to only as Confidential Informants 1 and 2.

Cuevas and Paredes are today believed to be in a witness protection program. They could not be reached, and their FBI handler, whom they identified when they last appeared in court in late 2016, did not respond to requests for help in contacting them.

Injustice Watch relied mainly on court records, supplemented by the accounts of other Mexican Mafia defectors, for this report on how authorities sometimes compromised civil liberties in the interest of efficiency in solving murders.

Who Was Cuevas and What is the Mexican Mafia?

In one of his court appearances, Raymond Cuevas was asked if he enjoyed violence. “Who doesn’t?” he replied. A street gang member since the age of nine, Cuevas was a walking advertisement for gang life. He had the name of the Hollywood-area street gang in which he grew up—the Rebels—tattooed across the back of his head and on his stomach. And he wore the tattooed abbreviation “R13” on one leg and one hand. The “13” told anyone familiar with Latino street gang culture that he and the Rebels were affiliated with the notoriously brutal Mexican Mafia, a state prison gang known in Spanish as “La Eme,” which in English means the letter “M,” the 13th in the alphabet.

La Eme functions as an insurance policy for Southern California Latino street gang members who find themselves in the state’s prisons or jails. La Eme protects them from other prison gangs, representing other regions and ethnicities. Even Southern California Latino gang members who are violent rivals on the streets are expected to set aside their feuds and unite as 13s when they are incarcerated. They are also expected to pay for protection. Affiliated street gangs pay taxes on profits from criminal activities such as drug dealing and extortion. Evading taxes can lead to fast-mounting fines; persistent evasion, to physical attacks, even death.

Cuevas was a tax collector for one of the Mexican Mafia’s leaders, Darryl Baca, also known as “Night Owl from Artesia,” whose word in matters of life and death on his mainly southeast Los Angeles County turf was considered final. Like many Mexican Mafia leaders, “Night Owl” was stuck in a special housing unit in a super max prison near the Oregon border. But the prison had trouble containing the reach of such leaders, who had techniques to get their orders out. They talked in codes in prison visiting rooms, or on the phone to wives, girlfriends, or outsiders with gang connections who functioned as gang “secretaries,” and used inmates who were being transferred to smuggle out microscopic handwritten letters called ‘’kites,’’ defectors have said.

Some kites were used for personal communications; others to give the “green light” for attacks on gang associates, in or out of prison, who had repeatedly proven incompetent at carrying out orders or who had improvidently broken important gang rules. There were many rules, most intended to limit attention from police. The most well known was a ban on drive-by shootings that Mexican Mafia leaders had imposed years ago because too many innocent bystanders were getting hit by errant shots from moving cars. The leaders decided that, in the interests of straighter shooting and keeping police interest to a minimum, affiliated street gang members would henceforth be required to stop their cars and get out—or at least to place one foot on the ground for stability—when they saw an enemy from a rival gang whom they wanted to shoot.

Another rule forbade the killing of prison guards, which also could be expected to trigger far more than usual police interest and interfere with cash flow.

Cuevas, a three-time convicted robber married to “Night Owl’s” niece, seemed to thrive in this culture of violence until three days before Christmas 2008, when he was arrested for, of all things, gang graffiti. Part of his job as a crew leader on the streets was to mentor teenage tagging crews and help them become organized street gangs that could generate money for the Mexican Mafia. He was in his early 30s and he testified that the day he got nabbed for felony vandalism was the day he decided he had had enough. “I just couldn’t believe I got busted again. I [was] just tired of coming back in [to jail],” he testified.

Cuevas was sent to Los Angeles County’s North County Correctional Facility, a jail that housed 4,200 of the county’s 18,000 jail inmates who were awaiting trials or serving short sentences. He became an informant for the sheriff’s department, which ran the jails. This was especially complicated because he also became the Mexican Mafia’s shot caller for the whole facility, according to a sheriff’s detective who worked with him. In that capacity, he collected taxes on drugs and cell phones that had been smuggled in as contraband, and on whatever inmates spent on food and hygiene products at the jail commissary. He had the power to settle smallish disputes, decide whether sex offenders and suspected informants should be attacked, and pass along authoritative word from leaders about which inmates merited assassination.

Surviving as a shot caller and an informant at the same time required a delicate sense of balance, to say the least. “When you run a facility, if you show any kind of weakness, you know, other people can walk all over you, and there were times where, you know, there were informants, child molesters, rapists in the dorms,” he once testified. “I ultimately had the last call [on what would happen to them]. I would call [the sheriffs] and tell them to remove those inmates. There was times where I had to make it look good and maybe one or two got assaulted on the way out the door, but at least they escaped with their lives.”

While playing this dual role, he was attacked with razor blades. The attack was arranged by a representative of another Mexican Mafia leader, who was angling to get his hands on the thousands of dollars per month being generated from taxes on contraband at North County. That cash wasn’t actually in North County. Relatives of inmate-taxpayers would typically wire it to gang “secretaries” using commercial money transfer services.

Cuevas survived the razor blade attack and was released. He said he then got an order from “Night Owl” to retaliate. Cuevas told incarcerated street gang members under his command that they had a “green light” to assault and, if possible, stab to death the representative of the rival leader who had ordered him attacked.

There was no shortage of volunteers. Committing such an attack was one way to rise in the Mexican Mafia. Refusing to commit such an attack was to invite being attacked.

Cuevas said he tried to cover his bases by also notifying the sheriff’s department of the impending attack and by urging jailers to move the targeted inmate into protective custody. But that did not happen. The man was attacked with homemade knives, but survived.

Cuevas was never prosecuted for ordering that attack. Instead, sheriff’s homicide detectives put him to work on the streets, wearing a wire to help them build a multiple murder case against one of his own street crew members—a drug dealer named Rudy Ruiz.

Ruiz had led what Cuevas said he regarded as an entirely unnecessary armed assault on members of a motorcycle club not affiliated with any gang while it was holding a charitable fundraiser at a Pico Rivera pizzeria. Three innocents were killed, seven wounded. Sheriff’s homicide detectives arrested Ruiz within days. But they had to cut him loose when the district attorney’s office said there was not enough evidence to charge him. With Cuevas’s help, Ruiz was ultimately charged, convicted, and sentenced to death.

But after this first outing of wearing a wire, things went south for Cuevas. He was living in nearby San Bernardino County when parole authorities searched his residence in 2010 and turned up two handguns. The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office charged him as a felon in illegal possession of the guns and threatened to prosecute him under California’ s three strikes law, which could put him in prison for 25 years to life. Prosecutors offered him a discounted deal if he pleaded guilty but “the first offer,” Cuevas once testified, “was 21 years.” Then Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officials rode to his rescue. They had him released into their custody, where he was in early 2011 when a small newspaper, the Whittier Daily News, exposed him as a defector by reporting his testimony at Ruiz’s preliminary hearing.

Despite the revelatory article, authorities decided Cuevas still had value as a jailhouse informant. With the possibility of a life sentence in San Bernardino County still hanging over his head, they began inserting him in cells with uncharged suspects and paying him with letters to San Bernardino authorities recommending leniency.

They also began pairing him with another Mexican Mafia defector who had found himself in a similar predicament.

Who Was Paredes?

Jose Paredes became an informant for Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective Francis Hardiman, the same detective who had recruited Cuevas. Hardiman did not respond to an interview request.

Paredes had begun his career as a gangster at the age of 13 when he joined another Hollywood-area street gang called the La Mirada Locos. As an adult, he had served two prison terms for assaults with a firearm, and one for carrying a concealed weapon. He had also risen to become a “shot caller” for the Mexican Mafia, running daily operations in a small part of one of the prison gang’s flagship outposts, Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail.

In this capacity, he had been caught on a wiretap passing along a “green light” order to stab to death an inmate who had disappointed Paredes’s patron, another Mexican Mafia leader named Eulalio Martinez who was said to be in overall charge of the jail.

The targeted inmate was an accused murderer whom Paredes had been mentoring. He had exhausted Martinez’s patience by twice losing track of smuggled marijuana shipments small enough to fill the finger of a glove. As a result, Paredes later testified, “I made some phone calls…to order a hit.” Twice, groups of inmates stabbed the victim, but he survived.

Nailed by the recording, Paredes was charged with crimes including attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder that could have seen him sentenced to prison for 150 years to life. Instead, he signed a formal agreement with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, in which he agreed to inform on Martinez, and on 19 other named defendants in 12 cases involving 21 murders. If he kept his end of the bargain, his family would be relocated, and he could reunite with them after serving a sentence of eight years.

Not everything went according to plan. Martinez died in jail of a heroin overdose before trial. And in one of the 12 cases, an intermediate state appeals court said there may have been reason to question Paredes and Hardiman’s credibility on a key point. It reversed two attempted murder convictions in part because a trial court judge had not allowed defendants to explore it.

Although Cuevas also figured into that case and he and Paredes were both identified by name in the publicly available appeals court decision, their names remained state secrets as far as some prosecutors were concerned. These prosecutors maintained, with the backing of some courts in Los Angeles and Orange County, that it was too dangerous to share the names of the informants with the defendants on whom they had informed.

In the Los Angeles County case against John Silva Ramirez, for example, prosecutors introduced evidence in the form of a recording that Ramirez’s brother and co-defendant had admitted to unnamed jailhouse informants that Ramirez had shot to death a man who had been in an argument with their father.

Superior Court Judge Jessie Rodriguez ruled that the co-defendant’s recorded admissions could be used against Ramirez, but that the defendants were not entitled to know the informants’s identities or question them as witnesses because the defendants were unable to substantiate their claims that the informants were high-level Mexican Mafia associates who had been planted by police in a cell with the brother and questioned him in an intimidating manner. Ramirez was convicted and sentenced to 80 years to life.

Ramirez’s appellate lawyer Patrick Ford pointed out that his trial lawyers faced a Catch-22: How could they prove their contentions about the informants if the trial judge would not make the prosecutors tell them the informants’s names?

Appeals court judges backed the trial judge. They wrote: “Defendant has not shown that the informant was a dangerous gang leader or that the police instructed him to question or to extract incriminating statements from [the brother]. Further, defendant has pointed to no evidence suggesting that the police had any preexisting arrangement with the informant.”

Other court records reviewed by Injustice Watch suggest these judges were naïve. These records show there were two informants—Cuevas and Paredes—each of whom was paid $1,000 by Long Beach police.

A Jailhouse Version of the Ritz

While they were in custody as informants, Cuevas and Paredes were separated from other inmates—at first in a small Los Angeles County detention center, then at the Anaheim police department jail. There, they had a wing to themselves and, according to court records, access to a video game system, a television, a DVD player, a laptop computer, private food cabinets, a microwave, a hot plate, a refrigerator, a coffee maker, telephone calling cards, a washer, a dryer, exercise equipment, and private dental care. Family members stopped by to deliver groceries and hygiene products and for face-to-face visits. Detectives sometimes treated them to fast-food takeout.

When it was time to go to work, detectives from whatever police department needed them would brief them on their suspect and the circumstances of the killing and typically prime the suspect by telling him he was about to be charged. While the suspect contemplated the possibility of spending the rest of his life in correctional institutions under the thumb of the Mexican Mafia, he would be ushered into a cell with one or both of the former Mexican Mafia enforcers.

Paredes and Cuevas did not announce themselves as enforcers. But their behavior suggested they were well-connected Mexican Mafia gangsters. Court records show they sometimes spoke in a form of a sign language that defeated the efficacy of the wires they wore. Mexican Mafia associates used sign language in prison “to relay messages back and forth. So it’s mandatory that you learn sign language,” Paredes once explained. They also sometimes conversed in Nahautl, a relatively obscure language tied to the Aztecs, which experienced Mexican Mafia associates used in prison because corrections officers generally did not understand it. Sometimes, either in an effort to convince their cellmate suspects that it was safe to confide in them or to set an intimidating tone, they name-dropped nicknames of prominent Mexican Mafia members, and talked about murders they claimed to have witnessed and assignments to smuggle kites.

Sometimes, they suggested, innocent suspects broke down in tears, leaving the enforcers doubtful they had committed the crimes. How many times that happened is uncertain. But Cuevas and Paredes each testified in 2016 that their work had produced between 40 and 50 cases where they helped establish the innocence of the suspects. Law enforcement officials confirmed there were some. But only one such case was specified on a list of cases Cuevas and Paredes had worked through the middle of 2015.

The Death Threats

Physical violence was apparently rare. Only once in his time as a jailhouse informant was Paredes accused of assaulting a suspect.

Michael Baker, an alleged drug addict who was suspected in a long-unsolved disappearance and presumed murder of his 82-year-old grandmother, said Paredes, a 300-pound man, once twisted his arm painfully behind his back in jail, while the smaller Cuevas demanded he confess. If he did not, he said Cuevas told him, his father, who was then in state prison for securities fraud, would be murdered.

The other alleged death threats amounted to psychological violence. The enforcers told gang member murder suspects in several cases that they had been placed on a “green light” list for having broken a gang rule. But perhaps there had been a misunderstanding. If the suspect confessed, the enforcers could go to bat for him with gang leaders and get his name taken off the list.

Rudy Duran was one such case. An informant had led detectives to Duran in what had been a cold case—the killing, years earlier, of an off-duty prison guard. Authorities suspected Duran had been hired years earlier to assemble and participate in a gang hit squad by the state prison guard’s husband, who had insured his wife’s life for $1 million.

While Duran was detained, but before he was charged, authorities introduced Cuevas as a cellmate. Cuevas told Duran that he had heard his name was on a Mexican Mafia “green light” list for killing the guard—a rule violation—and said that he would make a phone call to find out for sure.

He warned Duran that if his name really was on the list and ‘‘they tell me to whack you, I’m gonna have to whack you, bro. I mean I ain’t got…[muffled/inaudible]…so I mean—I mean obviously they’re not gonna tell me to whack you…[muffled/inaudible]…but eventually you are gonna get whacked or you’re gonna get hit right here. I mean but that—that’s—that’s hypothetically speaking, holmes. You know what I’m saying?”

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Duran wanted to know.

“The worst that can happen is you’re done, holmes,” Cuevas said.

Cuevas then pretended to befriend Duran. He told the suspect that his best chance to avoid getting stabbed to death was to trust Cuevas, who would help him craft a defense and present it to unnamed shot callers. The crafted defense would be that Duran had not knowingly broken the gang rule because he had not known the target in the murder for hire plot was an off-duty guard. “Plain and simple, you were misled,” Cuevas said.

Cuevas said he could convey this to Mexican Mafia leaders as a plea for clemency. But Cuevas warned the suspect to tell him the truth, because Cuevas would be putting his own credibility on the line. “You need to fucking be straight up with me about everything that’s going on so I can have your back,” Cuevas said. “Don’t give me no half-assed story. Tell me exactly what happened.”

Duran confessed to Cuevas. Then, according to court records, police and prosecutors went to work on Duran. They suggested that Duran would not have to face a murder charge if he became a cooperating witness against the man who had hired him, court records show.

Duran ultimately testified against Nuzzio Begaren, who he said hired him to kill his wife, Elizabeth, the off-duty guard. With Duran’s help, Begaren was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Duran got six years.

The use of a death threat to prompt Duran’s confession was never adjudicated. In agreeing to plead guilty, Duran never asserted that his confession was coerced.

Prosecutors never turned over to Begaren’s attorneys the tape recording made by the sheriff’s office of Cuevas’s threats to Duran that might have prompted him to testify. And, the ACLU lawsuit notes, the sheriff continued to use Cuevas and Parades to obtain more confessions.

More Green Light Cases

The green light case involving street gang member Anthony Calabrese was a bit different. Calabrese might really have been on one.

Calabrese was in custody, charged with carjacking and robbery. But he was also a suspect in two killings, one a drive-by. Jailers had allegedly heard that the Mexican Mafia had placed him on a green light list for the drive-by and put him in a cell alone to keep him safe. Cuevas was planted in an adjacent cell.

Cuevas told Calabrese that he had connections that could help him get off the green light list and out of protective custody and that he should expect a visit from one of them, a police officer testified.

A week later, Paredes showed up in the visiting room, posing as the man who could help. The police officer testified that he listened in and that Calabrese admitted that he was the shooter in the first slaying, but denied being the shooter in the second. He also denied that the second shooting was a drive-by. He said he had been present and that the shooter “got out of the car and did it right,” the police officer recalled. Calabrese was charged with two counts of murder. The case in which he allegedly admitted being the shooter was ultimately dismissed; the other remains pending.

The police officer, Anaheim Police Sergeant Anthony Browne, testified at Calabrese’s preliminary hearing that he could not remember if he had given a green light list with Calabrese’s name on it to Cuevas so that Cuevas could show it to Calabrese. He said recordings of Cuevas’s conversations with Calabrese were of no help because they were mostly inaudible.

But he confirmed that others in his department had used a green light ploy several times. “We have done several of these cases, and they all kind of run together,” he testified.

“Where you have basically instructed an informant to use a list that shows somebody is on a hit list…in order to induce that person to talk to your informant?” he was asked.

“We have,” he testified.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that such tactics were unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court’s Rules for Jailhouse Informants

The nation’s highest court has given law enforcement guideposts on how jailhouse informants can and cannot be used. The basic rule is that, once a suspect has been charged with a serious crime, he is constitutionally entitled to legal representation and therefore cannot be lawfully questioned by police—or by an informant acting as an agent for police—without his attorney’s approval. All a jailhouse informant is supposed to be able to do when a suspect has already been charged is to listen passively, then report what he hears, the Supreme Court has said.

The rules are different, however, if a suspect has not yet been charged. When police question an uncharged suspect in custody, they are obliged to remind him that he has a Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions that might incriminate him.

But the high court has said there is no need to provide such a warning when a jailhouse informant who is standing in for the police questions a suspect. The court explained its reasoning in deciding the case of an inmate named Lloyd Perkins, who described to an undercover agent posing as a prisoner a murder he committed in East St. Louis. Writing for the majority in Illinois v. Perkins, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “When a suspect considers himself in the company of cellmates and not officers, the coercive atmosphere is lacking. [Therefore] we reject the argument that Miranda warnings are required whenever a suspect is in custody in a technical sense and converses with someone who happens to be a government agent.”

Informants such as Cuevas and Paredes are classified as Perkins informants because of this case. They are deployed in the sweet spot between a suspect’s detention and the filing of charges. During this period, law enforcement is legally free to plant an informant with a suspect in jail and use the informant to question the suspect.

Subsequent to the Perkins case, the high court modified its stance to acknowledge the possibility that a cellmate could be sufficiently intimidating to render a confession involuntary. That acknowledgement came in the case of Arizona v. Fulminante, in which a cellmate-informant obtained a murder confession from a frightened sex offender by promising him that he would protect him from other inmates who wanted to harm him, but only if he confessed.

Both Cuevas and Paredes have testified that they know intimidation is not allowed and do not engage in it.

How This All Came to Light

Assistant Orange County Public Defender Scott Sanders first exposed Cuevas, Paredes, and their use of green light lists. The Orange County Weekly and the Orange County Register subsequently chronicled many of their escapades.

Sanders had gotten curious about use of jailhouse informants in Orange County while representing two clients facing a possible death penalty who had each allegedly confessed to the same informant—another former Mexican Mafia shot caller facing life imprisonment, Fernando Perez.

His research into this apparent coincidence exposed a systematic practice by Orange County prosecutors and jailers of illegally planting experienced jailhouse informants with charged defendants and then illegally withholding potentially exculpatory evidence from them which they could use to challenge the informants’ credibility—for example, that the informants who reported their confessions were paid professionals. Because of these practices, Sanders ultimately persuaded an Orange County judge to take the extraordinary step of disqualifying the entire Orange County district attorney’s office from seeking the death penalty against one of his clients, who had already admitted guilt in the largest mass killing in county history.

In the course of his research, Sanders found that Cuevas and Paredes were apparently not the first informants to use the green light ploy. A year before it came up in the Calabrese case, another former Mexican Mafia associate-turned prolific informant in Orange County, Brian Ruorock, had used it to elicit an admission in another gang killing.

Sanders also found two cases in which informants placed with suspects told the suspects that they had been assigned by prison gangs to determine if the suspects had broken gang rules and therefore should be green lighted for attacks.

In an Orange County case, Derek Adams was suspected of murdering a former member of a white supremacist prison gang. An informant named Lance Wulff told Adams that he was an important member of the gang and “was pretty much running the show.” He told Adams that “we need to know the story now,” if Adams expected to survive in prison. Adams confessed, saying the killing involved a dispute that had nothing to do with the gang.

Sanders found an even earlier case in Ventura County, just north of Los Angeles, involving an informant who claimed to be a Mexican Mafia representative who had been assigned to “run court” on suspect Ramon Dominguez Gonzalez, a Southern California Latino gang member, to determine if he had broken the Mexican Mafia’s no drive-by rule and therefore should be attacked.

“I didn’t do any drive-by, Dog,” Dominguez  told him, according to a recording of their conversation. “…I got out [of the car] and, and I got the dude, but it is not a drive-by…I got out dude. I, I swear that I got out.” The informant then promised to call off a planned attack.

Dominguez’s defense attorney argued that his client’s confession was coerced and should be barred. The trial judge and a state appellate panel disagreed, concluding there was no evidence of coercion. Dominguez was convicted of attempted murder, sentenced to prison for life, and his appeal was rejected.

But Dominguez turned to the federal courts, filing a habeas corpus petition contending his confession was coerced. After hearings, Federal Magistrate Frederick F. Mumm expressed “grave doubt that, absent the Petitioner’s confession, the jury would have
found Petitioner guilty.” U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Guilford adopted the report and granted Dominguez’s petition, ruling the confession was not voluntary and the prosecutors’ reliance on it made a difference in the case.

Rather than take Gonzalez to trial again without being able to introduce the confession into evidence, the Ventura County District Attorney’s office offered him eight years in return for a guilty plea. He took the deal. He had already been in custody for six years.

(Ted Rohrlich was a longtime staff member of The Los Angeles Times; years ago, he exposed the dangers of jailhouse informants by tracking the work of one informant, Leslie Vernon White. This is his first piece for Injustice Watch.)