Family Members of a 30 year old cold case solved in 2012 feel their Marsy’s Law rights are violated and ask JHV for assistance.
Judge throws out plea deal in 1982 Rowland Heights slaying
Gilbert Leal, 52, left, and Marcelino Corona, 50, are accused of an Aug. 8, 1982 beating and stabbing that left 20-year-old Richard Hernandez of Valinda dead and another man seriously injured.
POMONA >> A Pomona Superior Court judge on Friday rejected a plea deal for two suspects in the Aug. 8, 1982, fatal stabbing of a 20-year-old Valinda man at Rowland Heights Park because he didn’t think the sentences fit the crime.
Judge Douglas Sortino offered Gilbert Leal, 52, of Riverside County, and Marcelino Corona, 50, of Fontana, eight years in prison each and no credit for time served while in custody. They can accept his offer or go to trial instead.
“You can talk to your client. If they are willing to roll the dice and face 15 years to life, we can go to trial,” Sortino told Corona’s attorney, Anthony Cavalluzzi.
The judge gave the defense time to mull over the offer and set a Dec. 4 hearing.
It was an unexpected twist in a case where both sides had worked out a plea deal. Leal would have been sentenced to six years if he pleaded guilty to the voluntary manslaughter of Richard Hernandez. Corona would have gotten eight years for pleading guilty to the voluntary manslaughter of Hernandez, personally using a knife to commit the crime as well as assault with a deadly weapon on the second victim, then 19-year-old Daniel Ontiveros.
The deal from the District Attorney’s Office angered Hernandez’s family and friends.
They wrote letters to the court, about 18 attended Friday’s hearing and three spoke about Hernandez, whose childhood nickname was “Pookie” after comedian Soupy Sales’ lion, and the impact his death had on their lives. Justice for Homicide Victims, which the family contacted, also sent representatives to court.
Hernandez’s sister, Sandy Velasquez, was among those who spoke in court before the judge made his decision.
She said her family was struggling with the plea deal and called it a slap to the face. She said 15 years to life plus a strike was more reasonable.
“Now 31 years later, karma has caught up with you. And now you’re playing the victim,” Velasquez told Leal and Corona.
She said their hiding in Mexico after the killing was an act of cowardice.
She then addressed Corona. “You come out here winking and smiling, you show no remorse,” Velasquez said, adding that he was being disrespectful to Hernandez’s family and the court.
Velasquez said her brother was the kindest person she’d ever known, wasn’t a troublemaker and was on a great career path. He wanted to buy two properties, one for himself and one for their parents.
Ontiveros has never been the same after the incident, she said.
Hernandez’s elderly parents, Richard and Margery, asked if their niece, Audry McDonald, could read their letter. Sortino granted the request.
“We continue to miss him and love him today. ...Then the most tragic thing happened to us,” the Hernandezes wrote. “Parents should not have to bury their children. It’s the other way around.”
Fifteen months after her son was killed, Margery Hernandez was being unable to cope. She was taken to a hospital and underwent therapy. The family participated in group therapy.
“From the very beginning, the case was not given the merits it deserved,” the Hernandezes said. They said the suspects married and had children. Hernandez’s death deprived them of seeing him get married and have children.
On Aug. 8, 1982, deputies said Hernandez and Ontiveros were visiting with two girls at the park at 1500 Banida Ave. when they were approached by three men and attacked. Hernandez was beaten, stabbed and later died at a hospital. Ontiveros suffered brain damage, deputies said.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Yglecias said provocative words were directed at the victims. He added that one of the girls remembered a suspect saying, “I know you would back down.”
Corona, Leal and Leal’s younger brother Eddie fled to Mexico afterward. Eddie Leal died several years later.
Three decades passed.
Leal was discovered in Riverside County, where he had become a youth sports coach and part-time volunteer with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. His son was murdered in 2011 and there was a car that yielded prints. Detectives fingerprinted the Leal family. Gilbert Leal’s prints showed he was wanted for the 1982 Rowland Heights fatal stabbing. He was arrested July 20, 2012.
Corona was found living in Fontana under a different name and arrested Nov. 29, 2012, deputies said.
Judge Sortino said it is the prosecutor’s job to charge and to reduce charges. It is something the court cannot get involved in, he added.
What he is deciding is whether there are reasonable and justifiable reasons for the prosecution to make the plea offer.
The prosecution had provided adequate reasons to reduce the charges, he said. He said he understood that there are problems with the case, including the fading memories of witnesses.
But Sortino said the problem is with the 1982 sentencing.
“If you reduce murder to voluntary manslaughter, it’s quite a drop from 15 years to life to six years,” he said.
He just didn’t think six years was enough for Leal or eight years was enough for Corona. His decision was based upon what he heard in court, the letters from friends and families of the victims and suspects, the probation reports, the defense report and the case file.
Sortino’s decision surprised the victims’ friends and relatives.
“Now we have a little bit more hope,” Velasquez said.
Hernandez’s childhood friend, Ronnie McDowell, who also spoke in court about losing his friend, said he was very surprised at what the judge did.
“I didn’t think we would be given a consideration. After the meeting this morning (with the head deputy DA), I thought it was a done deal,” McDowell said.
Hernandez’s cousin, Audry McDonald, said she thought the judge was very fair.
“That’s all we’re asking for, fairness,” she said.