Suspect released, charges dropped against man accused in 2008 Riley slaying
The San Jose man charged with Merced slaying of Michael Riley a decade ago has been released from jail after the Merced County District Attorney’s Office dismissed charges for the second time.
But 31-year-old Jerome Slayton could soon be re-arrested and charged again with shooting and killing Riley if a multiagency law enforcement contingent is able to locate and bring an elusive witness to testify, Deputy District Attorney Katie Gates said Tuesday.
The witness in question was near the scene at the time of the killing and named Slayton as the shooter, authorities said.
“When this case was presented to us, we believed we would be able to find the witness and that (the witness) would be cooperative,” Gates said.
But that hasn’t happened. And Gates said authorities believe the witness has been evading law enforcement.
Slayton previously pleaded not guilty to killing Riley, who was gunned down Oct. 7, 2008, in the 1100 block of Loughborough Drive outside the Village Meadows Apartments. A 10year long investigation resulted in Slayton’s July 19 arrest.
About a month after the arrest, prosecutors dropped charges after they said scheduling issues prevented former lead investigator, Joe Deliman, from testifying about an old interview with a witness.
But Slayton was immediately re-arrested and charged again with murder. On Aug. 28, he was ordered to stand trial during a preliminary hearing.
Slayton and his attorney, Merced County Public Defender Ramnik Samrao, last week filed a motion to dismiss the case claiming Slayton’s due process rights were violated because the defense didn’t have a way to contact a confidential informant. That informant reportedly told an investigator a day after the slaying that someone else killed Riley.
That motion was supposed to be debated in court Tuesday, but Gates dismissed charges
before that discussion, Samrao said.
Because Slayton declined to waive his right to a speedy trial, prosecutors felt they couldn’t move forward with a trial scheduled to start with jury selection this week without getting the witness to testify.
“We’re obviously encouraged by today’s dismissal,” Samrao said Tuesday. “But there needs to be some sort of finality to the case.”
Samrao said the multiple re-arrests and dismissals by prosecutors have put the case “in limbo” and that it has stressed Slayton, who is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“I know it’s not just about (Slayton’s) family,” Samrao said. “I feel bad for the Rileys. I think they’ve been given this false hope. But (Slayton is) the wrong guy.”
Gates said she recognizes the pain Riley’s family is going through.
“Of course we’re concerned about the Riley family,” she said.
“They’ve been waiting for a decade.”
Riley’s mother, Marylene Riley, could not be reached for comment. Marylene Riley has long been an outspoken advocate against violence in Merced.
Merced Police Capt. Bimley West said Riley’s family has been patient with the case, but they may not have to wait much longer.
“It has taken a little while to locate this witness,” West said. “But we believe we have a location.”
West said he believes the witness fears testifying could lead to retaliation.
“We’re talking about another life in jeopardy right now,” West said. “I can’t much blame the witness for wanting to stay low.”
“We’re not worried about what this witness has to say,” Samrao said, claiming the witness lied to investigators and has an extensive violent criminal history.
Police have made contact and are close to bringing the witness in for testimony, West said.
“We’ve got to give some assurances that we’re willing to do all we can to protect this witness,”
While the witness is a key person to the case, Gates said she hopes other witnesses who possibly saw the shooting or know about it come forward.
Jerome Slayton Jr., of San Jose, was arrested July 19 on suspicion of killing 29-year-old Michael Riley on Oct. 7, 2008. Charges were later dismissed but Slayton was re-arrested.