Cold case cracked: three arrested in 2004 gang murder | News | Palo Alto Online |


Cold case cracked: three arrested in 2004 gang murder


A new investigation into the 2004 shooting death of 17-year-old Alejandro "Alex" Fernandez has led to the arrest of two main suspects, the alleged driver and shooter. The father of the driver, a city employee, was also arrested for allegedly lying under oath in front of a Grand Jury.

The arrests were made thanks to an FBI-organized task force working out of the Mountain View police department which re-interviewed dozens of witnesses when the case was reopened last year. Major breaks in the case came with the help of something police say is rarely used in Santa Clara County and is more commonly used by the FBI, a Grand Jury investigation. Witnesses who refused to talk to police in the past were subpoenaed and successfully made to testify under oath in front of the Grand Jury with the threat of perjury charges hanging over them.

"We always felt like people weren't giving us information they had," said police spokeswoman Elizabeth Wylie.

Fernandez was shot while walking down Rengstorff Avenue near Latham Street on Sept. 24, 2004 with his friends. Wylie said Fernandez, a junior at Los Altos High School who had told police he was a Sureno gang member, approached the car and was allegedly shot multiple times in the torso by 24-year-old Mountain View resident Giovanni Duarte, a self admitted member of the rival Norteno gang called "Varrio Mountain View," or "VMV," Wylie said. He was 17 at the time of the crime.

"We think the motive was gang-related but a random act of gang violence," that did not specifically target Fernandez, Wylie said.

Police quietly made Duarte's arrest on March 23 and he is being held without bail. He faces 50 years to life in prison for the gang related murder.

At his Leong Drive home on Friday, police arrested Mountain View resident Anthony Figueroa, 23, for allegedly driving his family's car to enable the drive-by-shooting. Figueroa, another member of the VMV gang, also faces 50 years to life in prison for a gang murder, said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Frank Carruba.

Also arrested Friday was Figueroa's father, Arthur Figueroa, 49, a parks maintenance worker for the city of Mountain View whom police believe has ties to the BMV gang. Carruba said Arthur Figueroa "lied regarding contact and conversations with murder suspect Marlan Ruiz pertaining to grand jury proceedings,". Because of a gang enhancement and a prior strike on his record, Figueroa faces up to 17 years in prison instead of a maximum of four years for perjury, Carruba said.

Arthur Figeroa was arrested while riding as a passenger in a city-owned vehicle while on the job Friday. He was hired in 2006, and the city "at that time did not do criminal history checks," on prospective employees, Wylie said. "We do now." City management is "reviewing his original application for inaccuracy and in the future will make a determination if discipline up to termination is appropriate."

Police are still seeking the arrest of three others who riding in the car at the time of the shooting.

The 2004 murder of Fernandez rocked the city and was the only gang-related murder for years. Wylie said police had a bookshelf full of files with leads, witness interviews and suspect profiles but the case "essentially stalled."

After re-interviewing every witness, investigators "started to get new witnesses -- people with new information," Wylie said. "They did a ton of surveillance. Ultimately they were able to identify Giovanni as the likely shooter and Figueroa as the driver of the car that day."

Police say they also had the advantage of the suspects being less cautious than they were right after the murder took place, but a big factor was the power of the Grand Jury get witnesses talking.

"People who are unwilling to speak to police have a right to turn around and walk out the door," Carruba said. "But with a Grand Jury investigation, witnesses can be made to show up through subpoena and the presiding judge can compel them to answer questions." Witnesses can also claim their Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions, but only against the possibility of incriminating themselves, Carruba said.

The arrests should send a clear message to the two gangs involved that they "can't get away with murder," Wylie said. "We're not just going to let it go away," Carruba added. "These cases are going to be prosecuted."

The two gangs allegedly involved in the murder each gang has over 100 members in Mountain View, Wylie said. Surenos have existed in the city about 20 years, identifying themselves with the color blue and the Roman numeral for 13: "XIII." VMV members use the color red and the Roman numeral for 14: "XIV." VMV is believed to have existed in the city for at least 35 years, Wylie said.

Wylie said the case was the focus of a local gang task force formed in 2010 by the FBI under the Safe Streets Act which is now housed in the Mountain View police building. The team included a pair of Mountain View officers, Sgt. Dan Vicencio and Det. Saul Jaeger, a Sunnyvale police officer and two FBI agents.

"This case has been their focus from the get-go," Wylie said.

Police chief Scott Vermeer said the arrests were "a success story" for the task force, a form of collaboration that he said was the future of law enforcement.

"It was very frustrating for a number of years we could not solve this case," Vermeer said. "There is a lot of satisfaction and a lot of pride for all the people involved after so much time and so much work."

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Like this comment
Posted by Phil S.
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 23, 2011 at 8:56 am

Gang members and thugs like these are ruining the quality of life throughout California. We see it in too many of our neighborhoods, public schools, shopping areas, public spaces, and even our professional sports venues. Enough is enough.

Like this comment
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 23, 2011 at 10:08 am

Upon conviction, sentencing for these thugs should be mandatory service in the military, with immediate shipping out to hotspots. They are such tough guys, fighting the Taliban should be a breeze for them. Let the REAL tough guys come home for a spell. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff]. So much easier to bully your neighbors and communities.

Like this comment
Posted by Cynthia
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 23, 2011 at 10:33 am

Congratulations to the officers and investigators on this case, and thank you for your persistence in solving this. And, despite the victim's gang affiliation, my heart still goes out to the family who lost a son.

Like this comment
Posted by Layne
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 23, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Although this story is several years old, it represents another example of gang violence that has become so pervasive throughout the Bay Area. It just keeps getting worse and our quality of life is being seriously compromised. Enough already. We need more enforcement action and tough sentencing laws. We need more intervention programs in the schools teaching young people to reject this criminal lifestyle.

We also need parents to become more involved in their children's lives and be wary of the early signs of gang affiliation. From what I have gathered, many of these gang members are recruited at a very early age, as young as 10-13 years old. Where are these parents? Where are their values? Society needs to send a clear message that allowing children to pursue this life is unacceptable and does not meet our community standard of civility.

Since the vast majority of gang members in our region and across the state are of Latino backgrounds, we also need the influential leaders in those communities to speak out against the continued violence and criminal behavior. They seem very quick to express outrage over incidents involving negative interaction with the police, schools, etc, but we hear little or nothing when it comes to self-perpetuated incidents such as these. Whatever perceived problems and obstacles that society may pose to our Latino population, absolutely pales in comparison to their own self-destruction.

Like this comment
Posted by Cid
a resident of another community
on Aug 23, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Same thing in once-bucolic Half Moon Bay. Thankfully, the SM County Sheriff's now patrol there (due to town being unable to afford local police force due to former land-use suit by Palo Alto Developer Chop Keenan -Which the City lost and had to pay an enormous amount of money Keenan.) Now, there are far more Patrols and arrests, thanks to the ability and power of the New Force in town.

Like this comment
Posted by Gangs aren't the problem
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 23, 2011 at 1:54 pm

It's sad to see people thinking tougher laws are going to fix this. The problem isn't the law. It's the outreach and education (or lack thereof) that is the problem.

Laws for murder and violence are already pretty tough. Adding years isn't really going to make a difference to a young man who has very few opportunities due to economic issues and lack of positive role models.

You really want this violence to stop? If so - it's going to take time, patience, and money. And the willingness to address REALISTIC solutions that address the cause of the disease, not the symptoms.

Like this comment
Posted by Layne
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm

For Gangs Aren't the Problem, I do want to stop the violence, and I agree with you, prosecution and sentencing laws alone do not represent the entire solution. But they are definitely part of the solution, along with youth education programs which I already discussed in my original post.

I do have one major problem with your take, and one that I think is indicative of the overall issue that we're talking about here. It's simply the notion of people holding themselves accountable. I don't buy the idea of there only being a few opportunities out there, or the economy, or a lack of role models. For every obstacle that anyone faces in this country, there are many more opportunities if one chooses to take advantage of them. Society provides a free public education. The community colleges in the Bay Area are among the best in the country, and still reasonably affordable. There is also job training, military service, and countless other productive options that people can pursue.

You toss around the notion of time, patience, and money, all things you presumably expect society to adopt and understand. How about expecting people to solve their own problems without the transference of responsibility and blame, or waiting for the government, schools, or anyone else to make their lives better and more productive. You want to address REALISTIC solutions? How about the reality of expecting parents to supervise their children and raise them with proper values? How about the reality of expecting people to value and take advantage of the free education they're being provided? How about the reality of expecting people not to commit crimes, having some human dignity, and respecting other people and their property. Since when have these basic values become so unrealistic or unattainable.

These people are creating their own disease and symptoms. No one else, especially society in general, is to blame or at fault.

Like this comment
Posted by Conay
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Right on Layne! Beautifully written and, you have my admiration and support.

Like this comment
Posted by Gangs aren't the problem
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 24, 2011 at 10:52 am

"How about the reality of expecting parents to supervise their children and raise them with proper values?"

Yeah - about that. When you come from an abusive family, get pregnant at 16 because you were looking for a self esteem boost that your father couldn't give you, and you have no family support...where do you think that leaves your kid?

Let's be realisic. We all WANT people to be responsible for their children. It doesn't seem like a huge thing to ask. But - REALISTICALLY - it ain't gonna happen by wishing it. If you really want to end the violence, you need to tackle the heart of the problem - not the individual symptoms.

The notion that "these people are creating their own disease and symptoms". Who are "these people"? The poor? The uneducated? The minorities? What did you mean by that?

Did you mean "gang members"? Gangs are created by social outcasts (why aren't rich people in street gangs? Why aren't educated people in street gangs?). The problem runs so much deeper than just a few violent young men and women. It's time for society to start focusing on that so that ALL of our kids are safe. We're all in this together, right?

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Social outcasts? They're their own social group, and generally they have a lot of power - from running drugs, prostitution, dog fights and other illegal activities. Their power is garnered via fear, intimidation, macho posturing, violence, and of course, crimes of commerce and violence. They aren't social outcasts - they're anti-social, social deviants. There is something wrong w/many gang members, eg results of nature & nurture.

Like this comment
Posted by Gangs aren't the problem
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm

@Hmmm: It's ideas like that that set back actually solving the problem - ensuring the violence will never disappear. Putting your anger at their actions (totally justified anger, BTW) in front of logically putting an end to the problem won't help. It might help you feel better knowing the bad guys went to jail, but it does NOTHING to stop the flow of new bad guys from coming in.

While you are worried about punishing the wrong doers, I think it's better to focus energy on actually stopping the problem at its source.

Like this comment
Posted by SF Peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm

All you white people want to blame the "Gangs" like they are the same thing. Anglo-Saxons just label all Hispanics as Gang Members and want to get rid of our street organizations without addressing the reasons we formed them in the first place, mainly for protection(against other races and police), group unity, to make money(when white people refuse to hire us) and its also a brotherhood so when we go to different cities or states we have a support group even if we never met them.

Also alot of Hispanics are being forced into the prison system so the Norteno Gang protects us when we are forced into prison(modern slavery) that white people usually get bailed out on or get lax sentences. So until society can address these grievances, its puro Norte for life!!!
Also the police dont want to do anything about the Sureno gang. These are new-comers from Los Angles/So Cal and from other countries. These guys move to the Bay Area and try to kill us so naturally we have to defend ourselves and sometimes that means taking the offense like in this tragic case here. The cops should target the Sureno gang and remove them from the Bay Area. Most of them are illegal anyway and have no loyalty to the Bay Area.
This Norteno-Sureno war has the ability to split the state in half!
As of this year Hispanics are the largest ethnicity in all of California for the first time since statehood in 1850 so start taking us seriously Anglo-Saxons!!

Keep your head up too all the homeboys from VMV and all the Ene's up and down the SF Peninsula(West Bay). We will get justice one day!
San Fran Mission District X415. Fuck the FEDS!!!!!
Puro West Bay Nortemos for life from that SFM 2 that VMV 415/650 West Bay Soilders! They cant stop us, They can only work with us! We got the trump card my Ene's. We are the majority in California as of this year! Time to put these puto gringo Anglo Saxons in there minority status place!!! See how it feels, HAHAHAHHA.
Viva LA RAZA, fuck a Yankkee FED bich!!!!!!

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