After 12 years in jail for a shooting in which he assuredly did not pull the trigger, David Peralta has been granted a new trial. Not that he’s by any means a nice guy:
Superior Court Judge Daniel Coursey determined this week there is a reasonable probability that new evidence initially uncovered by federal authorities would result in a different verdict — not guilty — in the murder case against David Peralta. For this reason, Coursey granted Peralta’s motion for a new trial.
Peralta was convicted during a five-day trial held six months after the Jan. 25, 2001, murder of 22-year-old Rebecca Moore of Norcross. Prosecutors said Peralta, then a member of the Latin Kings gang, killed Moore because she openly criticized him in front of other gang members and was threatening to disclose their sexual relationship to Peralta’s fiancee, who was pregnant with his child.
New trial nearly always equals time served or an acquittal. Because as it turns out, the eyewitness testimony, as it nearly always does, failed:
At Peralta’s trial, none of the passengers in the Cadillac identified Peralta as the shooter, but one said he saw the shooter out of the corner of his eye. He described the shooter as a light-skinned, bald-headed Hispanic man riding in the front passenger seat of a dark-green, four-door Honda with shiny rims.
This could be anyone who lives on Buford Highway. Ten to one the witness was prompted by the cops, who probably had their sights on Peralta and found this as good a reason as any to put him behind bars. It’s the sort of eyewitness testimony that is the reason I’ll never be on a murder jury, because I would go back to the jury room and say “Are you flippin’ kidding me?”
The new evidence came to light years later during a federal investigation of violent street gang activity. Two gang members told FBI agents and a federal grand jury that 16-year-old Daniel Cortes was Moore’s actual killer. Cortes, a member of the Sur-13 gang, was fatally shot at a Roswell park two months after Moore was killed.
Key statements come from two men who said they were in the car with Cortes when he fired shots into the Cadillac. Coursey noted that these two men’s statements are significant because they were essentially admitting to being parties to the crime.
These two guys were testifying against their own best interests, so they’re 100 times more convincing than Some Dude who saw a guy who sort of looked like Peralta out of the corner of his eye. But make no mistake: Peralta’s not a good guy; he just didn’t do this particular crime.
This is a dynamite story from the perspective of writing fiction. The key piece of information the article doesn’t give us is what the relationship between the Latin Kings and the Sur-13 gangs are—and it matters in real life, as well. If the gangs are rivals, then Cortes is just getting one over on the enemy, and Peralta (and poor Rebecca Moore) are innocent victims.
But if the gangs are allied, or if the Kings are the umbrella gang, then it’s still more sinister. Because Peralta could have easily ordered Cortes’s gang boss to have someone kill Moore, or maybe have done it indirectly, in a “who will rid me of this troublesome babymomma” sort of way.
Imagine Cortes as the young soldier who realizes Moore is becoming a problem for Peralta, and takes it upon himself to kill her, thinking he’ll be rewarded. But corrupt cops persuade the witness to finger Peralta, and down he goes, because he was a bald Hispanic man in a car with shiny rims at the wrong time. Imagine being Cortes, knowing you’re ultimately going to get it much worse. Imagine being the detective, trying to sort out the baroque relationships among a bunch of Hispanic gangs using only high-school Spanish, racing against time to try to prove to the DA that Cortes was acting on something that could be said to have been Peralta’s orders.