July 28, 2014

Our View: Merced DA had to step aside in name of justice

Murders of three teens at an Atwater party cries out for justice 15 months after it happened

It was both necessary and appropriate that Merced County District Attorney Larry D. Morse II step away from the prosecution of anyone involved in the three terrible murders that occurred near Atwater in March 2013.

Morse’s office had been preparing to prosecute those recently arrested in the deaths of Samantha Parreira, 16; Bernabed Hernandez-Canela, 18, and Mathew Fisher, 19. But a week after the first arrests, Morse’s son Ethan was implicated in some aspect of the crime or its aftermath. His alleged role has not been made clear.

Once that arrest was made, all preparation and participation of the DA’s office had to stop. Otherwise, it would eventually appear the outcome and sentencing, no matter what it is, was tainted by favoritism.

Tragically, we’ve seen that reaction before. This is the second incident in which one of the DA’s sons has been accused of a crime. His older son, Dylan, was convicted of drunken driving resulting in one death in 2009. He spent three years in prison, but some insist he was treated leniently because his father is a district attorney, though Larry Morse had nothing to do with the Sonoma County prosecution.

This incident is far different. A confrontation at a party for teens in Atwater escalated, and five people were shot. The crime was under investigation for 15 months before three arrests were made last week. The DA’s office was preparing to break its prosecution into two parts, one involving 19-year-olds Jose M. Carballido and Jose L. Botello, of Atwater, and the other involving Jacob Tellez, 18, of Merced.

Ethan Morse and Tellez are said to be friends, and Larry Morse said his son spoke willingly to sheriff’s investigators before being arrested Friday. By Sunday, the DA had removed his office from all involvement.

Regardless of who prosecutes, justice for the victims is the first priority. Murder is a heinous crime, but gunning down someone running from the gunfire, as Samantha Parreira apparently was doing, is especially cruel and cowardly.

We don’t know if those who stand accused were gang members. It only matters because of the enhanced penalties attached to any sentences. The evidence, guilt and appropriate penalties must be arrived at during and after a trial, not before.

For the public, and the families of the victims, to accept that justice is being done there can be absolutely no hint of interference. Not only must Larry Morse step aside, but so must his entire office – investigative staff, administrators and other prosecutors – because they report to him.

The attorney general’s office will have but one job as it prosecutes those accused of these terrible murders: to hold those responsible accountable and thus achieve justice for the victims and their families.

District Attorney Morse also has but one job: Being a father. Doing that job leaves no room for any other.

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