By Tony Sokol
Utah Psychic Pushes for Retrial of Murder Case That Rocked Utah’s Gangland
Nina Morales, who is part of the psychic community in Utah, is trying to reopen a murder case that caused a gang war.
On March 17, 2010 Riqo Mariano Perea was found guilty of two counts of aggravated murder for shooting and killing Sabrina Prieto, 22, and Rosendo Nevarez, 29, and injuring two others at a wedding party at an Ogden home on the night of August 4, 2007. The crime was particularly frightening to the community. Second District Judge Ernie Jones sentenced Perea to life without the possibility of parole. The convicted gunman was made out to be a thug, who fired into an unrespecting, happy party, in a drive-by shooting over some insult to his gang.
“I knew he was innocent before I knew his name,” Morales said. “We met through my cousin. Her husband was cellmates with Riqo. Something caught Riqo’s attention because he asked if I would be interested in being a pen pal. I felt him coming a month before I had the urge to tell my cousin that she needed to connect me with someone her husband knew in prison. Why? I did not know.
“The day she asked me, I knew he and I were destined for each other. In what way I had no clue. I told her how a month prior I wanted to tell her, what I felt. She replied with. ‘Oh, LG ( her husband) actually told me to ask you a month ago but I forgot.’ She asked if I wanted to know his name. I told her no.”
Perea was 19 years old at the time of the shooting. He was a member of the Ogden Trece gang. He confessed that he was the gunman witnesses identified leaning out of the front passenger-side window of a slow moving sport utility vehicle and firing over the roof of the car into the wedding party.
Prosecutors claimed Perea shot into the crowd over an insult from a rival gang member.
During closing arguments, Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward told jurors “In the gang world, it’s all about respect, and it’s all about retaliation.” He said “Riqo Perea was going to show he was the biggest and baddest.”
Prosecuting attorney Chris Shaw told jurors that Perea confessed by simply stating “I just did it.”
Defense attorney Randy Richards argued that Parea took the rap on the order of a higher ranking gang member to protect his family and because of threats made by the interrogating detective. All the gang members closed ranks and dropped dime on Perea as the lone shooter.
During the appeal Attorney Samuel Newton argued that Judge Jones made an error by not allowing a defense expert to testify about why people falsely confess to crimes they did not commit.
Morales believes that justice will ultimately prevail. From the moment she met the convicted gang member, she could not envision him finishing out the sentence as handed down by the court.
“The first connection we had was by phone,” Morales explained. “I asked how much time was he doing, five years? He said I could do that standing on my head. I got life. I had to argue with him. There was no way at all he had life. I didn’t see it. Couldn’t see it.
“I knew I loved him from that moment but I didn’t want to scare him away,” Morales said. “I know he felt the same magnetism. I was a breath of fresh air to him. I always charged my letters with high energy and love. I think he saw me through different eyes when he read my letters about spirituality. He never had anything to believe in, but when I gave him my view on it. It opened something in him and made him question the things he had been taught.”
Morales has since become very familiar with the case and, more importantly, the inconsistencies that landed Perea in prison.
“There is DNA evidence that places Riqo only in the back seat,” Morales began. “Not the front where the shots came from. There was a reenactment done to show that, from where the vehicle was in the street and the victims were and the place they got shot, do not match up.”
But the jury didn’t hear it.
“That reenactment was not allowed in court,” Morales said.
The jury also didn’t hear conflicting testimony.
“Four witnesses from the opposite gang were willing to testify that he was not the shooter, but only would if the judge closed the court room for safety,” she said. “He refused.”
Perea was also fighting an entire community.
“This shooting started a gang war and the city needed to get someone in custody and charged to put a handle on it,” Morales said. “But you can randomly ask people on the streets and they will say they heard he was innocent.”
Morales also understands why Perea took the rap.
“Riqo confessed, he was threatened that if he didn’t then his little brother and best friend would get charged,” she said. “Riqo thought that he would be able to beat the case anyways because of the evidence and he was innocent but the judge made sure that the jury did not hear any of that evidence.”
Last year, a witness for the prosecution, whose name is being kept confidential because of the danger of retaliation, came forward and gave a deposition that she was threatened by the lead detective and prosecuting attorney in the case to say that she saw Riqo shoot that night. The witness was the only non-biased witness to testify at the trial, according to Morales.
One of the witnesses had known Perea for years. Prosecuting attorney Shaw said the witness testified that she saw Perea in the right front passenger seat of the SUV. She said she saw him slide out of the window, lean over the roof and fire the gun.
Defense attorney Richards argued that when the unnamed witness was first interviewed in a hospital, she said she did not see who fired the shots. She identified Perea seven days later.
On July 2, 2015, the witness went into the office of Randall W Richards and declared that she wanted to sign an affidavit recanting the testimony that she had given the trial. She said the testimony was incorrect and that she was pressured to testify falsely under threats by the police.
Another witness originally claimed that she did not remember what happened on the night of the shooting. The only evidence she gave implicating Perea was read to her and she affirmed it.
On page 26 of the trial transcript, the unnamed witness was asked if she remembered Detective John Thomas “coming to you and emphasizing that it was important for you to tell the truth?”
“Yes,” she answered. “He threatened me a lot, yes.”
The decision on whether Perea merits a retrial landed in the hands of Judge Ernie Jones, who had a history targeting the Ogden Trece gang.
“That judge was the one who enforced a gang injunction on this particular gang and had no business trying this case,” Morales said. “This injunction was later removed because it violated these people’s human rights.”
“The same judge that gave him a life sentence is going to decide if he gets a retrial, which he had no business trying in the first place,” Morales said. “My first concern is the fact that Judge Ernie Jones was allowed to try this case knowing his thoughts on the particular gang Mr. Perea was a part of. He proved that in the way Riqo’s case was handled.”
“He did not allow a closed courtroom for four members of the rival gang to give testimony that Riqo in fact was not the shooter,” Morales detailed. “He did not allow an expert witness on false testimony to testify. He did not allow the evidence that Riqo’s DNA was only found in the back of the vehicle, not the front were the shooter actually was.”
Morales believes that if Riqo is given a “new trial to allow evidence that should have been allowed in the original one, his innocence will be proven by DNA alone. But this may not happen due to the manipulation the Judge Jones has in this case.”
“When I read him I see the hurt and sorrow in his eyes where everyone else sees a cold-blooded killer,” Morales said. “I have always just known he is innocent. After I actually started knowing about his case and knowing all evidence that was not allowed in. It supported my theory. I did a healing a few weeks ago on a preemie that was born at 22 weeks and weighed 2 pounds. When I told him about the baby he drew a card with Superman on it and had some of the other prisoners write words of encouragement in it. He has a hard exterior but his heart is as golden as they come.”
In the meantime, life in prison for Perea is getting worse. On Sunday, September 04, 2016, the Standard-Examiner reported that Perea, now 28, was charged with aggravated assault. He and Elmer Jimmy Maes Jr., 31, and Justin Daniel Lovato, 39, who also had gang ties, were accused of stabbing a fellow Utah State Prison inmate Roberto Joseph Duran Jr. 30 times on July 27.
Perea’s lawyer hopes to bring oral arguments to the courts before January 2017.