Lorenzo Nuñez

Monterey County, California
Date of Crime:  November 1994

“A jury convicted Lorenzo Nuñez of murder for supplying rifles used in a gruesome slaying, even though scant evidence showed Nuñez knew of the assailants’ intent.  The 6th District Court of Appeal upheld the conviction, but a federal judge overturned it because the jury was shown a videotape in which police lied to Nuñez about the strength of the evidence.”

“In November 1994, a horrific crime gripped Salinas: Three people had been sprayed with bullets and left dead in their home.  Lying on the floor next to the deceased was an 11-month-old girl, who had been shot twice but survived.  Three suspected assailants fled to Mexico.  But police arrested Lorenzo Nuñez, who admitted stealing rifles from one of the victims and providing them to the suspects.  Those stolen guns were the murder weapons.”

“Tantalizing clues suggested Nuñez, 23, was more than a weapons supplier.  A friend of the victims, he lived at their home for a time but stayed in a hotel during the days just before the slayings.  Nuñez was a cousin of one of the shooters, and he knew his history of bad blood with one of the victims.  But Nuñez told police he believed the guns would be sold in Mexico to settle a debt.”

“Prosecutors brought multiple murder charges against Nuñez, which required proof he had advance knowledge of the crime.  No direct evidence established his knowledge, though there were instances when Nuñez acted suspiciously before and after the slayings.  But during the trial, Judge John Phillips made a crucial ruling: While prohibiting most of Nuñez’s taped interrogation, he allowed the jury to view part of one tape.  In it, police claimed they had ‘numerous, numerous people’ who said Nuñez participated in the plans for the murders.  Phillips failed to tell the jury that the police claims about the witnesses were false.”

“The jury found Nuñez guilty of three murders.  In court, Phillips said: ‘I can’t recall a murder case where a conviction’s been obtained or supported by any weaker evidence. … If I had heard it as a court trial, I might well have come to a different conclusion than the jurors did.’  Soon after, he sentenced Nuñez to 40 years to life in prison.”

“Just two days after Nuñez was sentenced, Monterey County authorities received a videotape from Mexico, featuring one of the initial suspects insisting Nuñez did not know of their plans.  But a three-justice panel unanimously upheld Nuñez’s conviction and rejected a separate petition for a new trial.  The author, Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, said the ‘only reasonable inference’ from the circumstantial evidence – for example, Nuñez avoided his friend, victim Ramon Morales, after stealing the guns and before the killings – was that Nuñez knew a crime was planned.  The panel gave little attention to the interrogation video, saying there was no indication the jury gave the officers’ taped claims more weight than the other evidence it heard.”

“Six years after Nuñez’s trial, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston overturned his conviction in a sharply worded ruling.  Illston wrote that ‘viewing the entirety of the interrogation leaves the undeniable impression’ that police had direct evidence tying Nuñez to the crime.  The 6th District paid ‘no serious attention’ to the impact of the videotape on the jury, she continued, and reached a conclusion that was ‘clearly erroneous.’  Prosecutors chose not to retry Nuñez.” – Mercury News

Reference:   Nunez v. Garcia

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Northern California Cases, Triple Homicide Cases