The lawyer for a Yorba Linda man claims Orange County law enforcement has the blood of four homeless men on their hands because they focused on his client as the fatal stabber of his mother and brother when the real killer was his former best friend, confessed serial killer Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo.
The reasoning of Eder Giovanni Herrera's Pasadena lawyer, John Burton, goes as follows: Had police investigators opened their eyes and minds to possible suspects other than his client the Oct. 25, 2011, night 53-year-old Raquel Estrada and her 34-year-old son Juan Herrera were savagely murdered, they might have more quickly zeroed in on Ocampo, perhaps even arresting him before he murdered again.
The discharged U.S. Marine with mental issues–the coroner says Ocampo killed himself by eating Ajax cleanser while awaiting trial in his Orange County Jail cell–went on to fatally stab James McGillivray on Dec. 20, 2011. Ocampo would slay three other homeless men–Lloyd "Jimmy" Middaugh, Paulus "Dutch" Smit and John Berry–before his Jan. 13, 2012, arrest. He confessed to all six killings on video, according to authorities.
When District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced that he would seek the death penalty for Ocampo, he also revealed Herrera had been released from jail, where he had been in the three months-plus since his mother and brother were killed. However, the county's top prosecutor also said Herrera's actions after his family's slayings were "suspicious" and that the 26-year-old could be re-arrested if evidence supported it.
Yorba Linda is now a contract city of the Orange County Sheriff's Department. But at the time of the Herrera murders, the city was being patrolled by the Brea Police Department, whose Chief Jack Conklin has said "significant circumstantial evidence" still exists to consider Herrera a suspect.
Investigators have also mentioned "new evidence." Burton wonders if that might be based on what has been collected by jailhouse informants who spoke with either Ocampo or Eder Herrera. As my colleague R. Scott Moxley has reported, the OCDA is being challenged in court over the use of these informants after murder defendants have lawyered up.
Burton claims he has not received all the documents he needs from prosecutors to prove his theory that a cloud of suspicion is being falsely maintained over Herrera because it absolves Orange County law enforcement of the shame from not having done enough to stop four more Ocampo murders. The lawyer hopes to gain more documents and all the Ocampo video through discovery.
Herrera, through Burton, has filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles alleging wrongful imprisonment by Brea Police. Meanwhile, Burton is due in Orange County Superior Court Friday as part of a separate motion seeking the return of Herrera's belongings from Orange County authorities. Some items have been returned since the motion was first filed, Burton says, although he says his client's BMW remains in lockup. The OCDA's Susan Price previously said her office has no problem returning belongings to Herrera that are no longer considered evidence.
Herrera, who works as a parking lot sweeper, also has immigration proceedings pending. Upon his release from jail, he was turned over to federal authorities because he was brought to this country at age 7 without documents by his mother. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released Herrera pending his hearings. Burton says that if you had his client in a room, you'd swear he was American. (Herrera is being represented by a different lawyer in immigration proceedings.)
Burton contends that, based on records of the police interrogations, cell phone calls and pings, a grand jury report and other materials he has gathered, Herrera has an alibi for the time of the murders.
Police and prosecutors have been quick to note that Herrera and Ocampo were best friends in high school, but Burton says his client distanced himself from the Marine who seemed "crazy" after returning to Orange County from overseas.
Get this: one Brea police investigator being sued by Herrera told the grand jury that Ocampo went to the Herrera home to kill Eder, his mother and his brother and make it look like murders-suicide, according to Burton, who wonders then how could his client be a suspect.
Watching the family without them knowing, Ocampo got spooked because he saw Eder Herrera carrying scissors, Burton claims the cop told the grand jury, before adding Eder soon left the premises to hang out with a friend who had also been a buddy of Ocampo's in high school and who also kept his distance from the discharged Marine because of his mental state.
The serial killer's plan changed to murdering Raquel and Juan Herrera with a military knife, taking out a kitchen knife and dipping it in blood and leaving that knife near the bodies to make it appear Eder had done it, according to Burton, who believes the evidence showed Ocampo placed the call to dispatchers that resulted in police arriving at the Herrera home. Again, if Eder Herrera was involved, why would he have his "friend" make that call?
A trained investigator should have known at the scene that the gaping wounds in the mother, who was stabbed more than 30 times in her upper body, and the son, whose 60 stab wounds were probably indicative of the greater fight he put up against his attacker, were not made by a kitchen knife, according to Burton, who believes that alone should have put them on the trail to Ocampo sooner.
Police and prosecutors also could have admitted to these early mistakes. But instead, Burton claims, they prolonged Herrera's inevitable release from custody. But it's less about misplaced guilt, and more about having stewed in jail during the funerals of his mother and brother, that has left the lawyer's client most upset. That's something he will never get back.
All Herrera has to cling to these days are the ashes of his loved ones.