Why Didn't SFPD Pursue Material Witness Warrant for Wilfredo Reyes, Suspect in Triple Homicide?

Categories: Law & Order
Thumbnail image for edwin-ramos.jpg
Edwin Ramos (above) has claimed that Wilfredo Reyes was the real shooter.
Since June 2008, Edwin Ramos has claimed that Wilfredo Reyes was the shooter who killed Tony Bologna and his two sons. So when Reyes was arrested earlier this week, District Attorney George Gascón had to explain why it took so long to get him into custody.


Gascón said investigators had "suspicions" of where Reyes might have been over the past four years, but couldn't actively search for him without evidence placing him in Ramos' car.

"There were theories very early on that he was involved, but you have to go beyond theories," Gascón said.

Those "theories," of course, stem from the admitted driver of the culpable car identifying Reyes as the shooter. But, apparently, that wasn't enough for city law enforcement to even seek a warrant on Reyes.

"It seems ludicrous to me that police would not follow up on information provided by a murder suspect about the identity of a second suspect," says Susan Rutberg, a professor at Golden Gate University Law School.

Authorities could have "actively searched" for Reyes through an arrest warrant or a warrant as a material witness.

To be sure, Ramos' statement might not have been enough to convince a judge to issue an arrest warrant, says Golden Gate University Law School professor Myron Moskovitz. Since he was the prime suspect in the shooting and had a criminal history, he would not have come off as a very reliable informant.

So the police didn't issue an arrest warrant until March 2012, when a witness in Ramos' trial testified that she met Reyes in South Carolina and that Reyes told her he left California because he was in the passenger's seat during a drive-by shooting. (Ramos was convicted of the murders and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.)

But that doesn't explain why police didn't seek a warrant to bring in Reyes as a material witness, which, according to Moskovitz, "doesn't depend on probable cause to believe Reyes was the shooter, just that he was there." As such, a judge would have been more likely to sign off.

So in August 2009, as SFPD wasn't actively searching for Reyes, SFPD inspectors went all the way down to South Carolina to pick up Reyes' roommate -- a potential witness in an unrelated case who failed to answer a subpoena -- and didn't question Reyes.

The District Attorney's Office maintains that it didn't previously pursue an arrest warrant because it didn't have the independent evidence. Ramos' "self-serving statement" and the fact that Reyes suspiciously fled the state after the murder wasn't enough to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, said Alex Bastian, assistant district attorney.

He added that independent evidence is key, because if Ramos and Reyes were co-defendants, prosecutors couldn't use Ramos' statement against Reyes.

Reyes was not pursued harder as a material witness, Bastian said, because prosecutors did not think he was essential to their case against Ramos and because he was nowhere to be found.

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