On January 25, 2001, at about 3:30 a.m., a Cadillac carrying four men and two women left Ballyhoos, a nightclub in Atlanta, Georgia. As the Cadillac slowed to turn into a gas station, another car sped by. A gang slogan was shouted and several shots were fired. Twenty-two-year-old Rebecca Moore, a backseat passenger in the Cadillac, was fatally shot in the neck and died at the scene. No one else was injured.
Twenty-three-year-old David Peralta was suspected because he had been in Ballyhoos prior to the shooting, and because Moore, with whom Peralta had previously had a romantic relationship, was seen speaking harshly to Peralta and shaking her finger at him.
Police showed the occupants of the Cadillac a photographic lineup that included Peralta’s photograph. Israel Bernal, the driver of the car, and his brother, Gabriel, selected a photograph of Peralta, who was a member of the Latin Kings street gang, as the gunman.
Shortly after the shooting, Peralta fled Atlanta, but was arrested in New Orleans three weeks after the Bernal brothers picked him out of the photographic lineup. He was charged with the murder of Moore, and with the aggravated assault on all five surviving occupants of the Cadillac.
Peralta went on trial in DeKalb County Superior Court in September 2001. The prosecution claimed that Peralta shot Moore because in their conversation at Ballyhoos, Moore had threatened to reveal to Peralta’s pregnant girlfriend that Peralta had had an affair with Moore.
Israel Bernal testified that he never saw the face of the gunman, but only saw that he had a bald head. He testified that he identified Peralta, who was bald, because he had seen him at Ballyhoos before the shooting occurred. Gabriel Bernal also testified that he only identified Peralta as the man who had been at Ballyhoos. He too said he did not see the face of the gunman.
None of the other occupants of the car said they saw the gunman. They described the car as dark green, either a Honda Accord or a Honda Civic. They testified that all of them but Israel Bernal were heavily intoxicated.
Two men who shared a jail cell with Peralta after he was arrested testified that Peralta admitted to them that he shot at a car and that a woman was killed in the shooting.
A friend of Peralta’s testified that he and Peralta left Ballyhoos prior to the shooting and went to a house party where they remained until 5 a.m. Two other witnesses testified they saw Peralta at the party during that time.
On September 21, 2001, a jury convicted Peralta of the murder and of aggravated assault on Moore. The jury acquitted him of the aggravated assaults on the five other passengers of the Cadillac. Peralta was sentenced to life in prison.
Several months later, Jeffrey Anderson, one of the jail inmates who had testified for the prosecution, passed a note to Peralta in the DeKalb County Jail where the two were incarcerated. In the note, Anderson apologized for having testified falsely and said he had done so to avoid the murder charge that had been pending against him at the time of Peralta's trial. Anderson had been charged with murder in an unrelated case and pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter after testifying in Peralta's trial. Peralta amended his pending motion for new trial to assert that his due process rights were violated because the prosecution had failed to disclose the deal it had made with Anderson in exchange for testimony and had knowingly used false testimony without correcting it.
In 2002, at a hearing on the motion, Anderson again recanted his testimony that Peralta had admitted the shooting. Anderson testified that both he and the other inmate, Keith Ford, had falsely implicated Peralta. Anderson said that he was facing an unrelated murder charge and was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for his testimony. Ford invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify. The judge found that Anderson’s recantation was not credible and denied the motion for a new trial. The ruling was upheld on appeal.
In 2006, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia were investigating a street gang known as the Surenos 13. As part of the investigation, FBI agents interviewed Isaac Alamia and Gehovany Salazar, who said that they were in the car from which the shots were fired that killed Moore. Alamia and Salazar said they were in a green Daewoo, a car with a body shape similar to a Honda Civic, with Freddie Sandoval and 16-year-old Daniel Cortes.
Salazar and Alamia told the agents that they saw two men get into the Cadillac and believed they were opposing gang members. They followed the car and as it slowed to turn into the gas station, Cortes fired a revolver at the car and they sped off. Cortes was killed by rival gang members several months later.
The FBI interviewed Alamia’s girlfriend, who admitted that Alamia had told her he was involved in Moore’s murder and that someone else had been blamed for it.
This information was turned over to state prosecutors in 2008 and Peralta’s defense attorneys finally learned of the revelations in 2009. After spending years obtaining affidavits from the witnesses, lawyers from the Atlanta law firm of King & Spaulding, who represented Peralta without charge, filed a motion for a new trial in 2011.
In April 2013, following a hearing, DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Daniel M. Coursey Jr. granted the motion for a new trial and vacated Peralta’s conviction. On September 12, 2013, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Peralta was released.
– Maurice Possley