Murder victim's family upset with plea deals offered to suspects

Family of Carlos Corona has waited more than 4 years for justice

SAN ANTONIO – Gabriel Corona has waited more than four years for justice in the murder of his brother, but he said that wait has left him questioning the justice system and the way it treats victims.

Gabriel Corona's brother, Carlos Corona, was shot and killed during a robbery in December 2011. Two men were charged with capital murder but now they're making plea deals.

Corona can't believe it because when the crime happened, he said SAPD detectives told him they had a solid case against the suspects.

"Rock solid capital murder case, that's what they said." Corona said. "We got the guys, this is what happened, this is what occurred. There's no need to look or dig into anything because this is what happened. Everything was solid and from there it just started, you know, four years later here's where we are today."

Corona was killed during a robbery at his auto parts recycling business on Dec. 29, 2011. The suspects, Richard Rodriguez and Jullian Sifuentes, were arrested and charged with capital murder, but the charge wouldn't stick.

"What I was told by the lead prosecutor is, 'I'm sorry, but you've been fed a bunch of BS,' whatever that meant," Corona said. "At that point you're like who do you trust?"

After first dealing with prosecutors under former District Attorney Susan Reed, Corona said the case went back to square one when Nico LaHood was elected DA. That's when he said the new prosecutors began casting doubt on the strength of the case.

"According to them, a lot of things just didn't add up," Corona said. "I mean, there's some stuff that wasn't given to them, there's other witnesses. According to them, they don't have all the information and so this is all they have to go on."

In a statement the DA's office said it recused itself from the case because Sifuentes was previously represented by one of LaHood's current division chiefs when he was a defense attorney and a special prosecutor was appointed.

In February, the special prosecutor made a plea deal with Rodriguez without notifying the family.

"We were not aware of it. Nobody called us. We found out through the grapevine that people were talking about there was a deal made. I said, 'I don't think that's accurate, I don't think our system functions that way,'" Corona said. "They said, 'We're sorry, but yes, we did make a deal.'"

Corona said meetings with the prosecution team have been turbulent and he accused them of being insensitive.

"One of the (prosecutors) on this team we have now said to me, 'Look, your brother is gone, honey. There ain't nothing bringing him back,'" Corona said. "So that's how insensitive these people are and they just want to move on and go on with the next case."

According to Corona, the special prosecutor is about to make another plea deal with Sifuentes, but Corona said he wants the case to go to trial but was told it's too expensive and too much uncertainty to secure a conviction.

"We're stunned. We're not in favor of this deal," Corona said. "We want justice to be served. We want a jury. We want a trial."

Corona said the entire experience has caused him to lose trust in the justice system.

"It's like you're being re-victimized again. Not just are you getting victimized by these individuals who did what they did but you're also a victim of our system." Corona said. "This is a system that we're told to believe and to trust and they're going to handle things but ... they don't really want to go to trial. They just want to make deals.”

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