Sus­pect re­leased, charges dropped against man ac­cused in 2008 Ri­ley slay­ing

Merced Sun-Star - - Front Page - BY VIKAAS SHANKER vshanker@mer­ced­sun­star.com

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,”

West said.

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.

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