Convicted murderer's innocence claim denied by Ogden judge

Wednesday , April 19, 2017 - 5:00 AM1 comment

Nadia Pflaum, Standard-Examiner staff

 OGDEN -— A 2nd District judge on Monday dismissed a claim of innocence filed by Riqo Mariano Perea, who was convicted in 2010 of killing two people at a wedding party held by a rival gang. 

Perea, 29, is serving two life sentences for two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of attempted murder. He was again denied postconviction relief, this time following a claim of factual innocence

Perea signed a written confession after the 2007 shooting. Perea and several others had left the area of a wedding reception in a red SUV, and witnesses said they saw Perea hanging out of the passenger window, shooting into the crowd of partygoers. Sabrina Prieto and Rocendo Nevarez were killed; Richard Esquival and Keri Garcia survived their wounds. 

In a petition to the Utah Supreme Court, Perea argued the confessions were coerced and that he hadn’t been properly Mirandized by police. In the court’s 2013 opinion, Justice Jill Parrish affirmed the judgment and said that none of the issues Perea raised were enough to overcome the overwhelming evidence against him.  

In his most recent innocence claim, Perea claimed he had new evidence: an affidavit from Sarah Valencia, one of the chief witnesses against him in his murder trial. Valencia now says she never saw who did the shooting, and the police officers who questioned her told her that she could lose custody of her son if she didn’t cooperate as a witness against Perea.

“I was confused and scared, and therefore I went along with what the officers told me to say,” Valencia said in her affidavit.

There were only two other witnesses who could name Perea as the shooter, his petition claims, and they were both suspects who testified against Perea in exchange for immunity. 

On Monday, 2nd District Court Judge Ernie Jones dismissed Perea’s claim, ruling that Perea’s argument was not compelling enough to prove factual innocence. 

“(T)he affidavit merely demonstrates that Ms. Valencia did not see who shot the gun,” Jones wrote in his opinion. “She does not indicate that [Perea] did not shoot the gun or identify someone else as the shooter.”

Perea previously petitioned for relief from the 2nd District Court in Ogden in 2015 and was denied. An appeal of that decision was denied Thursday, April 13, by the Utah Court of Appeals.

Perea is currently awaiting trial for charges of aggravated assault on a fellow prisoner at the Utah State Prison, arising from an incident on July 27, 2016, in which a member of a rival gang was stabbed 30 times. That trial is scheduled to begin in May in Salt Lake’s 3rd District Court. Police have said Perea belonged to the Trece gang.

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