Man Wrongly Convicted Of Murder In DeKalb Is Released
A man 12 years into a life sentence for murder has been released from state prison in Coffee County after his pro bono defense team successfully fought for a new trial.
Instead of reprosecuting the man, the DeKalb County district attorney decided to drop all charges on Thursday, citing new evidence in the case.
A jury, after a five-day trial, convicted David Peralta in September 2001 of fatally shooting Rebecca Moore in January of that year while she rode in the back seat of a car on Pleasantdale Road.
In 2006, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office uncovered new evidence that proved Peralta was innocent, according to one of Peralta’s attorneys, Tully Blalock, an associate King & Spalding. That new evidence included statements from two members of a rival gang of Peralta’s saying that one of their members was the shooter.
“The U.S. Attorney presented this evidence to the DeKalb District Attorney’s office [sometime before August 2008],” Blalock said in a written statement, adding the DA’s office took no action. Blalock, along with K&S pro bono partner Bill Hoffman Jr. and former K&S associate Suzanne Williams, represented Peralta and had been trying to win his release for the last three years.
In April, DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Daniel Coursey Jr. granted the team’s motion for a new trial based on the newly discovered evidence and vacated Peralta’s conviction. However, Peralta, now 36, remained in prison while prosecutors decided whether to retry him.
On Thursday, Coursey issued an order granting a motion from DA Robert James dropping all charges. James was not district attorney when the new evidence was found. He took over in November 2010.
A spokesman for James confirmed the office dropped charges on Thursday.
“Through subsequent investigation, it was concluded that Peralta was not guilty of the crime and that the victim was fired upon by a rival gang,” Erik Burton said in a written statement. “Additionally, two eyewitnesses who placed Peralta at the scene of the crime have since recanted.”
Peralta had a prior relationship with Moore and had been a known member of the Latin Kings gang, according to case filings. Hours before her death on Jan. 25, 2001, Moore confronted Peralta at a club, where he and his associates had been seen throwing gang signs, to tell him that she “hated him for how he had treated her.”
When the club closed, Moore and several of her friends left together in a white Cadillac. As the car slowed to turn into a gas station, another car pulled up next to it and a man, described as bald and Hispanic, leaned out of the front passenger window and fired shots. Two of the gunshots hit Moore.
Peralta fled the state after Moore’s death and was arrested weeks later in New Orleans. Peralta did not testify at trial and his defense centered solely on his alibi, according to Coursey’s April order granting a new trial.
According to Coursey’s order Thursday dismissing charges against Peralta, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with several federal agencies, formed a task force in 2006 to investigate and prosecute members of the Sur-13 gang in metro Atlanta. The creation of the task force was not connected to Moore’s killing.
During the its investigation, the task force discovered that four young members of a rival gang were present during the shooting that killed Moore. Two of the four members, Isaac “Lil Pinto” Alamia and Gehovany “Cartoon” Salazar, testified before a grand jury and also swore in affidavits obtained by Peralta’s attorneys that they were in the car with the shooter, identified as Daniel “Vago” Cortes, when Moore was shot twice and died. Cortes has since died, according to case filings. He was killed by a rival gang.
Blalock said he and Williams traveled to prisons in Atlanta, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia to obtain affidavits from Alamia and Salazar and others.
Two DeKalb County jail inmates who testified at Peralta’s trial that Peralta had told them he shot Moore to keep her from telling his pregnant girlfriend about their relationship recanted, as referenced by Burton.
“At the hearing on Peralta’s first Motion for New Trial, one of the inmates, Jeffrey Anderson, testified that they both had lied during the trial to obtain a better deal on their own charges,” Coursey’s April order stated. “The other inmate, Keith Ford, invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege and declined to testify.”
Coursey determined that the new evidence met all six requirements for a new trial as mandated by Timberlake v. State, 246 Ga. 488 (1980), including newness and materiality.