By Michael McCutcheon
WOODLAND, CA – Since his arrest in 2003 and subsequent conviction in 2004, Antonio Loredo Morales has been serving a prison sentence for second degree murder, but this past week Yolo County Superior Court Judge Samuel McAdam granted Morales’s 1437 petition and vacated his sentence.
According to court documents, in 2003 Morales was walking back to his home when he heard fighting in an alleyway and discovered his friend and fellow Sureños gang member, Juan Carlos Montoya, fist-fighting with rival Norteños gang member, Jesus Alderete.
Morales picked up a small object, initially described as a rock, though Morales testified otherwise, and threw it at Alderete.
Alderete then charged Morales and they began fighting hand-to-hand. Meanwhile, Montoya walked up to Alderete from behind and began hitting him in the back.
However, unbeknownst to Morales, Montoya was wielding a knife and stabbed Alderete a total of seven times, two of which were fatal.
The two men fled the scene and were apprehended by police a few hours later.
At trial, Morales was convicted of second degree murder on the basis that Alderete’s death was a natural and probable consequence of being involved in a gang fight.
In 2018, California Senate Bill 1437 was passed, which abolished the “Natural and Probable Consequences Doctrine” standard for murder cases.
Subsequently, appeals courts have begun recommending the reexamination of murder cases to ensure that the doctrine was not the sole standard being used to uphold an accused’s conviction and sentence.
Though his appeals had been rejected before, Morales’s petition would finally be heard.
In court, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Melinda Aiello argued Morales acted with implied malice that resulted in Alderete’s death, therefore, his original sentence should be upheld.
To prove implied malice, (1) the defendant’s act must be dangerous to human life, and (2) the defendant must know that their conduct endangers the life of another person.
While Morales did involve himself in a gang fight, the defense argued he was under the impression it was without weapons, as it had been when he had previously fought other gang members a number of times prior.
Additionally, the defense said, while the object thrown by Morales may have caused an abrasion behind Alderete’s ear, testimony by a pathologist during the original trial stated the wound was superficial, not even capable of causing a concussion.
The defense maintained Morales never took any actions that endangered Alderete’s life, and the prosecution was unable to sufficiently prove that Morales knew his conduct would endanger Alderete’s life.
Judge McAdam said he could not find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Morales acted with conscious disregard for human life and concluded that the standard of implied malice was not met.