Exonerated Alki 18-year-old out of jail after a year

As we reported from the courthouse Friday afternoon, the three-week trial of an Alki 18-year-old came to a dramatic conclusion with a King County Superior Court jury finding him not guilty on all counts stemming from the deadly shooting 10/13/07 inside a car at 59th/Admiral. Three hours after the verdict, records show, he was released from county jail — where he had spent more than one year and two weeks. Ahead, our wrapup of this case — what’s next — and video reaction from the lawyer who took the teenager’s case for free, and won:

“I was confident that when (my client’s) case was brought to the people, and when they had the opportunity to hear the facts, that they would bring him justice.” That’s what lawyer Robert Perez told us at the courthouse, just after he filed the paperwork to secure the teen’s release, and before we asked him what happens next:

arrow.jpgThat therapy would be for the years of abuse that he testified he had suffered at the hands of the man who was shot dead in a car at 59th/Admiral the afternoon of October 13, 2007 (WSB photo at left, with arrow pointing to the car), 33-year-old Francisco Bailey-Ortiz.

None of that was public knowledge when the shooting shocked West Seattle that sunny afternoon. It was the third and final West Seattle murder case of the year (all three cases involving people known to each other). Our coverage that afternoon and evening was full of worried comments from people wondering if they were safe — with no immediate arrest, the fear was natural.

The next day came word that a 17-year-old had surrendered to police at a lawyer’s office in Bellevue. Though other news organizations dropped the story after that point, we felt it was important to follow the case, to find out about the possible motive — despite the arrest, for example, we continued to hear from people wondering if some sort of gang violence might have been involved, if there might be another outbreak of deadly violence in their neighborhood.

Two weeks after the shooting, we reported on court documents detailing the defense that the teenager’s lawyer planned to use — and revealing the contention that he had been sexually abused by Bailey-Ortiz since age 12. (As it turned out, that was all hinted at in an e-mail Perez sent WSB just days after the shooting, which we published in this report; he asked for witnesses to come forward, and also asked about circumstances in which Bailey-Ortiz might have been seen around children.)

At that same time, Perez was arguing — as we reported here — that his client should be let out of jail because the circumstances of the case affirmed he would be no harm to the community. The boy’s bail was cut from $500,000 to $200,000, but that apparently was still too high for anyone to post on his behalf, as he never made bail, and stayed behind bars for the entire time between the shooting and the verdict. (His trial began 10/13/08, exactly one year to the day after the shooting.)

Our next update on the case came in late December, after various evaluations and delays (WSB report here). After that, we watched the court records available online, following a seemingly endless trail of delays, postponement, hearings, and filings. Then in mid-September, after reporting on plea bargains in the two other 2007 West Seattle murders, we checked with Perez to see where this case stood. There would be no plea bargaining, he told us then: “(The defendant) is not a felon and he has no intention of becoming one based on the victimization that led to this tragedy. He will seek justice from a jury of his peers.”

And so, within a month, the trial began. It is difficult to tell the story of any kind of trial without being in the courtroom gavel to gavel, and we were lucky to be able to hire freelance reporter Rachel Gabrielle to do that on behalf of WSB. Her reports are all linked at the bottom of this article; the evidence presented was what you would guess from the defense outlined months earlier, but some of it was too graphic for us to publish here, so unless you choose to seek out the court documents, you can’t and won’t know the extent of what Perez and his team said the now-18-year-old client went through.

When the case went to the jury at the end of the trial’s third week, they spent barely half a day deliberating — they took care of some business late Thursday afternoon, after testimony concluded, then began deliberating in earnest this morning. As is standard procedure once a jury begins deliberating, all interested parties are called when a verdict is in, so that they are not spending hours and maybe even days hanging around the courthouse just waiting.

The call came around 2 pm Friday. For WSB coverage, Rachel and I both went to the courthouse, she from her West Seattle home, I from a waterfront coffee-shop table where I had been working since the Water Taxi media briefing a few hours earlier, wanting to stay downtown in case of a verdict, which turned out to have been an appropriate gamble.

I walked quickly to the courthouse, maybe 7 blocks, in the rain, and Rachel breathlessly rushed in shortly afterward. Turned out neither one of us had needed to rush; it was still some time before everyone arrived for the verdict reading.

The defendant was brought in first. I had only glimpsed him once at an early court hearing in the case. Here, he was not in an orange jail jumpsuit — instead in a pullover sweater, shirt, slacks, normal street clothes — but he was handcuffed, and accompanied by armed officers, as is again standard in such cases.

Before long, his mother was in the front row, flanked by friends. More family, friends, and other interested parties filed in shortly. Judge Richard Eadie came in, and finally, so did the jurors.

Even for someone who had not been in the courtroom for the rest of the trial, it was an electric moment, just before the verdict was read. It is impossible not to feel the currents of nervousness and adrenaline from everyone in the room, all with different stakes in the case — from the defendant who is about to find out if he will have to spend years more in prison, to the family/friends hoping against hope he will not, to the defense lawyers who spent a year assembling and then arguing the case, to the prosecutors who will find out if their case succeeded or failed. (The prosecution was not represented by Don Raz, who had argued the case, but by a substitute, because of a conflict.)

The verdict-reading is almost a ceremony. The judge has a prescribed question — has the jury reached a verdict? The jury leader must say, yes we have. Then the verdict is read (and verified).

In descending order, from premeditated murder down through 2nd-degree manslaughter, each possible charge added another “not guilty” verdict to the stack. When the reading was over, there was no concluding declaration such as “that’s it,” so the 18-year-old’s mother seemed briefly unsure that this really meant her son’s exoneration — but after a moment, she cried out, “Oh my God,” and then tears freely flowed among those there to support her. In the gallery, we could not see the face of her son, who sat at one of the tables facing the judge’s bench, but it was clear to see that he was holding his hands to his face, almost as if in disbelief.

What ensued was anticlimactic — brief discussion of the final phase that Perez mentioned in the video clip above, making the case for compensation, for the time the 18-year-old has lost. Once the ceremonial departure of the jury was over, I went into the hall to wait for Rachel to find out when Perez would be ready to be interviewed – she would ask questions, I would roll the video camera,. Moments later, from the hallway, through the courtroom door, I heard a hearty round of applause.

The now-former defendant was brought out first — still in handcuffs; though he was to be released shortly, until the paperwork is done, the usual protocol must be followed. When Perez, his co-counsel and assistants emerged, we followed them down to the next floor so he could take care of paperwork for his client to be freed from jail. And that’s where we talked to him – outside the offices where he filed that paperwork. (By the way, you can read about his background on his comprehensive business website.)

About three hours later, the county jail register shows, the 18-year-old was released.

Rachel will be in court for WSB on Monday, to cover the final phase looking at whether he is entitled to compensation for what he’s been through, and if so, how much. — TR

Previous coverage:
10/13/07: Day-of coverage of the shooting
10/13/08: Trial begins
10/16/08: Jury selection continues
10/20/08: Jury seated
10/21/08: Testimony begins
10/22/08: Testimony continues
10/23/08: Prosecution rests its case
10/27/08: Defendant takes the stand

10/28/08: Defendant’s family testifies
10/29/08: Testimony concludes
10/30/08: Jury deliberations begin

13 Replies to "Exonerated Alki 18-year-old out of jail after a year"

  • Oliver November 1, 2008 (7:00 am)

    How sad that the defendant had to spend over a year in jail in order to be exonerated. My heart goes out to him. I hope that the process and having to spend time in jail didn’t do further harm.

  • family friend November 1, 2008 (8:07 am)

    Excellent reporting by WSB through the whole process. West Seattle is lucky to have you and your team. Thank you for keeping those of us living out of State informed. The story is sad no matter how you view it. Lots of raw emotions from all involved.

  • mike November 1, 2008 (9:57 am)

    yeah I’m confused. Why did we take a year of his life away. I thought our justice system had a presumption of innocence. Is it because he admitted to the killing.

  • cathy November 1, 2008 (10:03 am)

    Thanks so much for your coverage of this story. So sorry for the horror the defendant has been through – but hoping that the rest of his life will get on track and wishing him the best.

    While I know the focus needs to be on the defendant, I have to add that I am so totally impressed by his attorney – working on a case like this for free for over a year. What a wonderful person he is. The world should have more attorneys like him. I did visit Mr. Perez’s web site and his credentials are truly impressive.

    I live near 59th and Admiral and came across the crime scene just minutes after the shooting(although I witnessed nothing). We neighbors were all shook up. Thanks to the West Seattle Blog for filling us in on everything that happened subsequently.

  • Aidan Hadley November 1, 2008 (10:30 am)

    Is it just me or is this story NOWHERE to be found in the mainstream media? I mean, I expected at least they would have mentioned the verdict in a local murder case. But I can’t seem to find anything anywhere. Thank god for the West Seattle Blog.

  • TheHouse November 1, 2008 (10:40 am)

    Let me get this straight (please correct me if I’m wrong)….kid kills man, admits to killing man, spends one year in jail, is found not guilty and now the lawyer is expecting the kids to be compensated.

    Am I the only one views this as vigilantism and that the courts basically are approving of it?

  • WSB November 1, 2008 (11:13 am)

    House – Short answer is, as Robert Perez explained in the video clip, state law provides for this potential when the defense is self-defense, and the defendant is found not guilty.
    Aidan – No, it’s not just you, it’s nowhere to be found. And having spent decades in “conventional media,” I would have at least expected someone to parachute in for the verdict – that’s what happened in the Satterlee House case a week ago, for example; we were alone in covering it through the Hearing Examiner stage (which involved a whole lot of time sitting in that hearing room downtown, but it wasn’t just of West Seattle importance, it was the only case of its kind of the ENTIRE YEAR) and the oral arguments, then one citywide-newspaper reporter at least showed up for the reading of that decision a week ago.
    Two huge stories that required a significant investment of resources – but they mattered, and there was no way we would have wanted to even entertain the notion of not covering them. We are extremely serious about providing comprehensive and timely West Seattle news coverage 24/7; sometimes it’s a case like this, sometimes it’s “what’s that helicopter looking for,” sometimes it’s first word of a development plan for a certain site or a radar speed sign for a certain street … big and small, it all matters.

  • Rachel Gabrielle November 1, 2008 (12:58 pm)

    TheHouse – There is also a caveat to every type of homicide charge which states “unless justifiable.” In this case, because the defense was able to prove it was in self-defense, the jury deemed this a justifiable homicide.

  • L.I. November 1, 2008 (9:58 pm)

    “TheHouse”, please remember that taking the life of another is legal in several instances. It was here. Defending your own life (or the life of another) when you have a reasonable belief that you are in imminent danger is completely justifiable and not prosecutable.

    Vigiliantism is inexcusable and does not fit the facts of this case by any stretch of the imagination, where a boy’s life was in danger and he acted to protect himself. Please educate yourself as to the facts of the case. There is plenty of coverage on WSB that would have clarified this vital distinction for you.

    Further, because the defense of justifiable homicide in self defense was successful based on the facts of the case, and the prosecution (with full access to these facts) proceeded to instigate both the charges and bail, compensation for the boy’s improper jailing and loss of freedom is warranted. This isn’t injustice; these options are available as per Washington state law to encourage reasoned, well-supported prosecution, and to prevent overly punitive and ignorant prosecutorial action. Should the motion be successful, it will serve two functions: it should send a message about overzealous and unjust prosecution, and though it will never fully compensate the boy for the year he lost and the dehumanizing effects of wrongful imprisonment, it should ensure he has the finances to seek therapy and fund his education.

    I commend the attorneys here who worked selflessly and without compensation in the hopes that their efforts would eventually procure justice and freedom for a very deserving person.

  • L.I. November 1, 2008 (10:18 pm)

    “Mike”, there is (allegedly) a presumption of innocence for anyone charged with a crime, until a jury of his peers finds him to be guilty of a crime. However, persons accused of a crime may be jailed in anticipation of trial. In order to justify imprisoning a defendant until his trial date, the prosecutor must file a motion that argues the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to society. The prosecutor in this case made such an argument, initially requesting a half million dollars bail, later reduced to 200 thousand dollars bail (both amounts precluding family and friends from posting bail, and ensuring the boy would stay imprisoned for the entire year up to his trial.)

    What is particularly disturbing about that motion in this case is that the boy has no prior history, and was only “a danger” to someone who had stalked and sexually abused him for much of his childhood, and who attacked him on the day in question. So he was taken out of school and out of his life at 17 years old and made to sit in a cell and be subject to the demoralizing mechanisms of the jail system. A boy who is now found to have committed NO crime was forced to spend time with real criminals for a year and two weeks. To be cuffed and uncuffed each time he entered the courtroom and during all court recesses. To not be able to even walk the halls of the courthouse without being flanked by guards at either side. The notion of “innocent until proven guilty” probably didn’t feel like a reality for this boy.

  • Joe the Electrician November 2, 2008 (9:56 am)

    Wait a second. Someone died. A son. A family member. Someone who was ill and needed help too. Why did he have to die? And where was help for the boy while this was going on? The justice system worked in the court room. It’s too bad it failed both of them before that fateful day last Oct.

  • Rachel Gabrielle November 2, 2008 (12:08 pm)

    Joe – Very true, and from what I could gather in the courtroom, no one is “happy” that anyone had to die. There was no help for the boy, unfortunately. He did what he could to reach out and it wasn’t enough. If you read the previous reports, specifically when his family gave their testimony, you might get a better understanding of that aspect.

  • L.I. November 2, 2008 (12:27 pm)

    Well, the abuser had to die because he put another person in fear for his life. Defending your own life or the life of another against imminent danger is a legally protected action.

    As for the boy being helped while this was going on… in an ideal world, he would have been. However, sex abuse victims usually have a very difficult time reporting the abuse or being heard by others when they cry out for help. They are “groomed” by the perpetrators to feel as if they are abandoned by the world, that no one would help them if they reported it, that they would be subject to further abuse or death if they reported, and that the perpetrator is skilled enough to evade detection so reporting would be fruitless.

    During his closing argument, the prosecutor accidentally slipped up and said “defendant” several times when he was in fact referring to the decedent. These Freudian slips show that even the prosecutor believes on a certain level that the real “criminal” here was the abuser. Had the system worked perfectly, this man would not be on the streets to abuse children. He was a felon, and not in the country legally. He constantly bought alcohol for children, including the defendant, and was squatting in a soon-to-be-demolished house.

    In a more ideal situation, the abuser would have been taken off the streets long before he could perpetrate crimes against this boy. That didn’t happen. But I don’t think it’s beneficial to paint the abuser as a person to feel sympathy for. Of course, every molester is “sick” or “ill” in some way. That doesn’t mean that they have no element of choice, or that they would respond to treatment had it been offered to them.

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