A Sterling man charged with the murder of a fellow gang member was bonded out of jail Wednesday after new evidence that could exonerate him was discovered.
Defense attorneys for Fredy Ernahy Escobar, 23, produced a letter they believe was written by the prosecution’s star witness. In the letter, the author claims that Escobar didn’t participate in the Aug. 11 slaying of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, member Jose “Snoopy” Escobar, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney William E. Jarvis said. The witness, Raul Ernesto Escobar, an admitted former member of the MS-13 gang, claims he didn’t write the letter, Jarvis said.
Defense attorney Jennifer Raimo declined to say where they got the letter. But she said they do believe it to be written by Raul Escobar.
Jarvis said that Raul Escobar’s girlfriend identified the handwriting as his. Because of this evidence, Jarvis said he had to bond Escobar out of jail while a handwriting expert investigates the letter.
Fredy Escobar was released Wednesday night on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond, Raimo said in a phone interview. He is under house arrest, Jarvis said.
If Raul Escobar did write the letter, it wouldn’t be the first time he has changed his story. Initially, four men were charged with the murder of Jose “Snoopy” Escobar, 22, Raul Escobar’s nephew. Raul Escobar was considered the star witness in each of the cases. Yet at the first preliminary hearing, Escobar claimed that he hadn’t seen one of the defendants, Reynaldo Alexander Cordova, 22, at the Irongate town house where his nephew was stabbed and shot to death.
Afterwards, Jarvis said that Raul Escobar was scared for his life and that of his family in El Salvador. He feared that the MS-13 gang would kill them, Jarvis said in October. The MS-13 gang originated in El Salvador.
With no other evidence, prosecutors had to drop the charges against Cordova. Jarvis said Thursday that he didn’t expect to charge Cordova again in the case.
But a month later, at the preliminary hearing of Wilfredo Montoya-Baires, 26, of Reston, Raul Escobar testified that Montoya-Baires shot his nephew because he was a “rat and a snitch.”
Fredy Escobar, armed with a knife, is believed to have backed up Montoya-Baires by blocking an exit from the town house where the murder took place, Jarvis said. A fourth defendant, Carlos Avalos, 29, is also believed to have sealed off an exit. Police are still searching for him.
Raul Escobar also identified himself, his nephew and Montoya-Baires as members of MS-13’s SLS faction. SLS refers to a town in El Salvador, he said, but could not name the town while testifying.
Prosecutors have said they believe Escobar was killed in a coordinated MS-13 hit, because gang leaders believed Jose Escobar had ratted on another gang member to Immigration and Naturalization Services.
Fredy Escobar’s Wednesday bond hearing and release from jail came after prosecutors dropped first-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and participation in a criminal gang charges against him Monday. Escobar had been scheduled for a jury trial beginning Monday.
However, prosecutors asked the judge to drop the charges because they felt their case will be strengthened by additional evidence from a federal investigation, Jarvis said. The charges were nolle prossed, meaning that prosecutors can bring them back at any time. Defense attorneys objected but were overruled.
Before he was ever released from jail Monday, new warrants were issued against Fredy Escobar for murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on those charges in General District Court in June, Raimo said.
Prosecutors also dropped all charges against Montoya-Baires, who was scheduled to stand trial three weeks ago. He also remains in jail on a murder warrant issued shortly after the charges against him had been dropped.