Alan Doyle died hungry.
It was after midnight on Friday, Dec. 5, 1997, when 16-year-old Doyle and his friends left a heavy-metal concert at the Showcase Theater in Corona and started heading home for nearby Yorba Linda. But first they walked to a fast-food restaurant for a late-night snack. Drive-through service was all that was available at that hour, so the group left empty-handed.
As they headed back to their car, parked near the theater, a group of young men in a car followed, taunting them with shouts of "devil-worshipers must die." Doyle and his friends kept walking, but once they reached the parking lot across from the theater, the car pulled up and an 18-year-old gang member named Peter Gallardo Espinoza jumped out holding a knife. He stabbed Doyle in the stomach.
A few hours later, Doyle died at Riverside General Hospital. Espinoza bragged about the incident to his girlfriend, who eventually told police. Doyle's friends then identified Espinoza as the killer. But by the time Corona police detectives began looking for Espinoza, he had already fled across the border to Mexico, where he has remained for the past seven years.
With the war on terrorism three years old and counting, you might think the U.S.-Mexico border would be the last place to find wanted criminals who are actively being sought by U.S. law-enforcement authorities. You'd be wrong. Since allegedly murdering Doyle, Espinoza has repeatedly crossed the border to visit family members, sources close to the investigation say.
"The police have been counting on Homeland Security to catch him at the border, but it seems like he keeps coming back and forth," said Alan's father, David Doyle. "I guess they're just waiting for him to try to cross again. It's hard to believe seven years have passed and they know where this guy is but can't get him."
Mexico—which has no death penalty—has long refused to extradite to the United States suspected murderers who could face the death penalty if convicted, making Mexico a destination of choice for killers. So prosecutors with the Riverside County district attorney's office considered removing a gang enhancement from Espinoza's murder warrant, which would reduce his potential sentence to life without the possibility of parole. But in October 2001, Mexico also began refusing to extradite suspects who could face such a sentence.
Now, the only way to guarantee suspects such as Espinoza ever face trial is to reduce their possible sentences to 25 years to life in prison, even for crimes as serious as first-degree murder, and begin extradition procedures with Mexico.
Tona Rizzi, Doyle's mother, has become active with a group of relatives of people killed by suspects who, like Espinoza, have fled to Mexico. The group includes the family of slain Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy David March, who was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop in April 2002 by Armando Garcia, a drug and weapons dealer who immediately crossed the border. Rizzi wanted to expose Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to her son's case by inviting them to a rally in Santa Clarita last year.
"Unfortunately, the Orange County sheriff and DA were not really responsive," Rizzi said. "I talked to [Carona's press spokesman Jon] Fleischmann, and he said Carona's schedule was booked months in advance. I couldn't get him to become involved. I didn't even call Tony Rauckackas because I've followed his career and I didn't even want to go there."
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To be fair, Carona or Rackauckas would be crossing jurisdictions to get involved in the case. Although Doyle was an Orange County resident, the case is being handled by authorities in LA and Riverside counties.
According to Jan Maurizi of the LA County district attorney's office, Corona police are in the process of seeking the U.S. Justice Department's help in drafting an extradition order for Espinoza that Mexican authorities will honor. "If there's a special circumstance like gang membership or lying in wait that requires the death penalty or life without parole, they'll have to dismiss that," Maurizi said. "Unless he comes back up here on his own accord, that's the only way to get him."
At this point, Rizzi said she's all but given up hope Espinoza will ever be held accountable for murdering her son. "I'm trying not to get my hopes up," she said. "I've come to the realization that nothing will bring my son back. But to save other families from this bullshit, I'll work to keep this issue in the public's eye. If nobody does anything, it'll keep happening."