On June 4, 1986, 22-year-old Ralph Morales, a reputed cocaine dealer, was fatally shot in a public housing development in Wilmington, California.
A man and his girlfriend told police that before the shooting, they saw Morales and two other men, one of whom appeared to be carrying a pistol. The man said he quarreled with one of the men because he believed one of the men had thrown a beer bottle that struck him. Morales, the man said, intervened to stop the argument. The couple then left.
Two weeks after the murder, a parole officer called detectives and said one of her parolees, 26-year-old Edward Moran, said he knew something about the shooting, but did not want to go to police.
Not long after police went to Moran’s home where they found several weapons and some phencyclidine (PCP). Moran, who was on parole for rape and burglary convictions, was arrested on a parole violation. He then told police that Morales was killed by 19-year-old Arthur Grajeda and his 31-year-old brother, Senon, both of whom lived in the housing development.
Moran told police that Arthur Grajeda shot Morales in the back of the head. Senon Grajeda then took the gun and shot Morales in the head once more as he lay on the ground, Moran said.
The Grajeda brothers were arrested on July 29, 1986 and charged with murder and armed robbery. The brothers were reputed members of the Mexican Mafia and police believed that the killing of Morales was an attempt to take over the drug trade at the housing development.
They went on trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court in September 1987. The two witnesses testified to the quarrel they had with the two men who were with Morales, and both testified that they identified a photograph of Senon Grajeda in a photo lineup prepared by police.
Moran testified that he saw the brothers shoot Morales.
On October 2, 1987, a jury convicted the brothers of murder, but acquitted them of armed robbery. Arthur Grajeda was sentenced to 32 years-to-life in prison. Senon Grajeda was sentenced to 45 years-to-life.
Less than two weeks later, Moran pleaded guilty to possession of PCP and the gun charges against him were dismissed. He was sentenced to one year in jail and then released, having been in jail from the time he was arrested in June 1986.
In the late 1980’s a scandal erupted in Los Angeles County over the use of jail house snitches who fabricated testimony in murder cases in order to receive reduced sentences and other benefits.
One of the snitches identified in an ensuing investigation was Moran, who had gone on to testify in other murder trials, claiming that defendants had confessed to him after they were arrested.
In June 1990, a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed on behalf of Arthur Grajeda. His lawyers sought a new trial because the prosecution had failed to disclose that, in exchange for his testimony, Moran was promised a reduced sentence on the charges pending against him and was allowed to leave jail on a furlough.
At the request of the prosecution, the California Court of Appeals granted the habeas petition and in April 1991, the charges against Grajeda were dismissed. He remained in prison until May 18, 1993 because he had been convicted of possession of a weapon in prison.
Senon Grajeda also filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus which was granted. He went on trial a second time in 1993
and was acquitted.
In 2000 Arthur Grajeda was convicted of an unrelated double murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Senon Grajeda was convicted of murder in June 2012 and is awaiting trial on charges of being the leader of a Mexican Mafia drug ring that trafficked cocaine in nine states.
– Maurice Possley