Yesterday I told you about the case of Baby Vanessa, who is about to be torn away from the only mother she's ever known and shipped halfway across the nation to be raised by a biological family she's never met, one that includes a violent bio-dad with a record. Today, I'd like to recount my second infuriating July 2010 case, that of an admitted hit-man. Just thinking about this case makes my blood pressure climb. Amazingly, self-confessed former mafia hit-man James “Jimmy” Hughes walked out of the Riverside Superior Court in Indio, CA, a free man last Thursday, after the case against him was dismissed at the prosecutors' request.
To explain what happened, let's back up. Hughes was arrested in September 2009 for the 1981 triple homicide known as the “Octopus Murders,” the shooting deaths of former Cabazon Band of Mission Indians tribal leader Fred Alvarez; his girlfriend, Patricia Castro; and friend Ralph Boger. All three were found dead on July 1, 1981 in Rancho Mirage; each had been shot execution style in the back of the head. The case got its unusual name because some believe the killings are connected to tribal dealings and government agencies.
Now let's talk about 1984, three years after the murders. That's when James “Jimmy” Hughes told authorities and reporters that he was the bag-man who delivered the money for the hit, and that Cabazon Indian tribe administrator John Phillip Nichols contracted the hit. After confessing, Hughes left the United States before he could testify and built a new life in Latin America where he lived for 28 years. In California, the triple homicide case lingered until Detective John Powers of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department took control of the cold case file on November 27, 2007.
Who kept the case alive all those years? One of the victims, Ralph Boger, has a daughter who was instrumental in pushing the case. Frustrated by a lack of action, Begley investigated her father's death, so well that investigators have credited her with uncovering important evidence. Thirteen at the time of her father's murder, Begley says she wants justice for the victims and that she has come too far to give up. “How many people must die or suffer at the hands of James Hughes before he is brought to justice?” Begley asked in a statement delivered in court. “He is literally getting away with murder.”
Deputy Attorney General Mike Murphy - the prosecutor - notified Rachel Begley on June 24th that he planned to drop charges against Hughes on July 1 (the 29th anniversary of the triple homicide). Interestingly, she was informed weeks, possibly months after the defendant and his whole family were told. So the case is being closed again - despite the fact that Jimmy Hughes has been in custody with special circumstances for nine months and the self-confessed hit-man publicly admitted he was the perpetrator.
So the case is being closed again - despite the fact that Jimmy Hughes has been in custody with special circumstances for nine months and the self-confessed hit-man publicly admitted he was the perpetrator.
How and why does a case with so much potentially incriminating evidence get dropped? I find this baffling! This is the stuff of TV and movie dramas – not the American justice system, an institution our soldiers are dying overseas to protect. Is the mafia still involved with Hughes? Are the prosecutors being threatened? What's happening here?
These are all widely speculative questions, but it appears obvious that something isn't right. Why wouldn’t we have a trial? If Hughes is innocent, the case would be examined and properly closed. But to let him loose with no trial is a disgusting outcome. I commend Rachel for her bravery and tenacity, taking on this task of trying to prosecute her father’s murderer. But our system should be doing what Rachel is doing: seeking justice.
Sometimes justice is swift and executed fairly and our system makes me proud. At other times, in those cases like this one and the Baby Vanessa case, I see egregious miscarriages of justice.
Click here to see the motion that let Hughes walk. For more details on his case, visit: A Hit Man with a New Mission, From CIA operative and mafia hit-man to evangelical pastor, Murderer of five thousand dollars.