Conviction upheld in MS-13 gang leader’s slaying

A federal appeals court in San Francisco Monday rejected a Norteño gang member’s challenge to his second-degree murder conviction for the fatal shooting of the head of a rival MS-13 gang in the city in 2004.

A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said Marcos Reis-Campos’s claim that a police officer lied about his knowledge of previous violence by the victim did not affect the outcome of Marcos’s trial.

Campos appealed in the federal court system with a habeas corpus petition after a state appeals court upheld his 2007 San Francisco Superior Court second-degree murder conviction and 50-year sentence for killing Luis Fuentes, 35, on the evening of June 26, 2004.

Campos, then 18, shot Fuentes six times as Fuentes was walking with his 6-year-old son at 24th and Hampshire streets, in an area claimed by Norteno gang members as their territory.

Fuentes was the leader of a local Sureño-affiliated MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, gang. Prosecutors claimed Campos shot him to gain stature in his Norteño gang.

Campos contended that Fuentes had threatened him four times in the past four months and that he shot in self-defense when Fuentes appeared to be reaching for a weapon.

During the trial, San Francisco Police Sgt. Mario Molina, the case investigator and gang expert, testified he wasn’t aware of any planned MS-13 retaliation for the March 2004 killing of an MS-13 member by a Norteno.

After the trial, Campos’s lawyers learned Molina had participated in a 2005-2008 federal and state investigation of local MS-13 groups and knew that Fuentes had orchestrated a Norteno murder to avenge the March 2004 MS-13 killing, according to the appeals court.

Circuit Judge John Owens wrote:

“The prosecutor’s withholding of information and Molina’s false testimony are very troubling.”

But Owens said the outcome of the case was not affected because Campos did tell the jury during his testimony that Fuentes had threatened him and that he was afraid.

The federal appeals panel noted that a 1996 U.S. law required it to give “extreme deference” to the state appeals court ruling upholding the conviction.

The law is the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. It was intended to streamline federal courts’ handling of habeas corpus petitions challenging death penalties and other convictions reached in state courts.