Crime

Merced homicide hearing focuses on accidental 911 call

Ethan Morse, 18, appears in front of judge Ronald W. Hansen at the Merced County Courthouse on Wednesday. Morse is accused of taking part in the killing of 18-year-old Bernabed Hernandez-Canela on March 30, 2013, outside of a house party in Atwater.
Ethan Morse, 18, appears in front of judge Ronald W. Hansen at the Merced County Courthouse on Wednesday. Morse is accused of taking part in the killing of 18-year-old Bernabed Hernandez-Canela on March 30, 2013, outside of a house party in Atwater. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

Defense attorneys on Wednesday accused the lead detective in a homicide case of making a “bad arrest” and of coercing witnesses to make evidence against the defendants “fit.”

A second day of testimony in the preliminary hearing for two 18-year-old defendants, one of whom is the son of the Merced County district attorney, featured heavy criticism regarding the evidence gathered by Merced County sheriff’s detectives, particularly a recording of a 911 call apparently inadvertently made by one of the defendants the night of the homicide.

Defendants Jacob Tellez and Ethan B. Morse, son of District Attorney Larry Morse II, have pleaded not guilty to murder and denied any gang involvement in the drive-by shooting death of Bernabed Hernandez-Canela, 18. Hernandez-Canela was one of three people shot and killed March 30, 2013, outside a house party in the 9200 block of Westside Boulevard near Atwater.

Prosecutors named Tellez as the gunman in the case and said Morse drove the vehicle. The case is being prosecuted by the California attorney general’s office because of the accusations against the district attorney’s son.

Samantha Parreira, 16, and Matthew Fisher, 19, also were killed at the party in a separate shooting believed to be unrelated to the death of Hernandez-Canela. Jose L. Botello and Jose M. Carballido are accused of killing Parreira and Fisher. Both have pleaded not guilty and are due back in court Friday.

Sheriff’s Detective Erick Macias testified Wednesday, the second day of a preliminary hearing for Morse and Tellez before Merced Superior Court Judge Ronald W. Hansen.

Tellez’s attorney, Adam Stewart, grilled Macias over a recording of a 911 call made from Tellez’s cellphone a short time after the shooting. The recording was made by Merced Police Department dispatchers after Tellez apparently “pocket dialed” 911 the night of the shooting and didn’t know his phone was connected to police dispatch, according to reports from deputies.

The recording, which has never been transcribed due to the difficultly deciphering exactly what was said, was described Tuesday as the main piece of evidence against Tellez.

According to reports, Tellez is heard describing “shooting someone at the party on Westside Boulevard with a revolver.” Tellez’s alleged description of the incident was consistent with how and where the victim was killed, the report says.

Stewart noted the original lead detective in the case, Dwayne Pavelski, released Tellez in 2013, about two weeks after the party.

Macias on Wednesday indicated he did not agree with the decision to release Tellez, saying the recording, even with its audio faults, was enough evidence in the case.

“The recording alone was enough for Mr. Tellez to be arrested,” Macias testified. “It was pretty clear he was describing he shot someone at that party.”

Pavelski has since left the Sheriff’s Department for a position in another agency, and Macias was named lead investigator.

Stewart noted investigators had no new evidence at the time Tellez was arrested again in July. Stewart also said detectives misrepresented exactly what was said on the tape to witnesses.

Morse’s attorney, Kirk McAllister, accused investigators of coercing witnesses to make statements that “fit” with the detectives’ theories and of making a “bad arrest.” Macias brushed off the accusations, saying he only wanted witnesses to be honest.

“There’s no bad arrest. We’re correct with what we have,” Macias testified. “Mr. Tellez shot Bernabed Hernandez.”

Stewart said the case against Tellez and Morse is weak.

“The case is being investigated as it is being prosecuted. They’re not ready to go,” Stewart said. “There’s not a case here. There wasn’t a case here in 2013. There’s not case in 2014.”

Testimony resumes Thursday in Merced Superior Court.

Sun-Star staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or rparsons@mercedsunstar.com.

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