The brown Buick Skylark parked in the ally contained a gruesome scene that seemed to indicate somebody had a beef with Rafael Brito, who was in the back seat with his pants pulled to his ankles.
But Brito couldn't have been embarrassed.
His corpse, cold and mutilated, was still intoxicated when a puzzled patrol cop approached and looked inside the car.
He'd been stabbed more than 40 times in his head, face, chest and arms. His attacker had even plunged a large butcher's knife into his right eyeball and used a tire iron to repeatedly bash his skull, crushing it and almost causing decapitation.
The identity of the vicious killer, who shared an unusual bond with Brito, remained a mystery for almost 16 years.
In 2007, thanks to the detective work of Santa Ana cops Louie Martinez III and Dean Fulcher, Orange County prosecutors charged 5-foot-2, 160-pound Luciano Silva Aguilar, who'd entered the U.S. without documentation in 1984 after serving as a Mexican police officer. According to court documents based on psychological testing, Aguilar possessed mental skills superior to only 4 percent of the population, and he didn't know how to read or write.
So how did the cops solve the case? Years after Brito's demise, the mother of the dead man's daughter, Maria Felix Arias, admitted to police that she'd also procreated with another man: Aguilar. Critically, Arias also noted that Brito, a known violent thug, and Aguilar had been hostile enemies because of their unwanted tie. Although police-department officials incredibly destroyed evidence in the unsolved case–a fact that alarmed judges–remaining fingerprint and DNA evidence eventually put Aguilar at the crime scene.
During a 2009 trial, Aguilar testified that the killing was self-defense and that he could not remember how Brito's pants had been pulled down during the attack. He claimed that he did not immediately tell police about the killing because he feared they would deport him back to Mexico. An Orange County jury was partially sympathetic. It found him guilty not of murder, but voluntary manslaughter, and Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue shipped him to a California prison.
Though Aguilar admitted he didn't understand the American judicial system, he knew he could appeal his conviction and did so. Among his claims: His arrest should have been barred because of statute of limitations, police should not have been allowed to get his DNA and fingerprints, and his punishment was too harsh.
This week, a California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana considered and rejected all of Aguilar's claims.
Aguilar will continue to serve his 11-year prison sentence.
–R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.