Crime

Man faces murder charge after plea deal blew up in his face

William Alvarez-Calo, right, eyes a document being reviewed by his attorney, Emily Gause of Seattle, center, during a pretrial hearing at the County-City Building in Tacoma on Sept. 27.
William Alvarez-Calo, right, eyes a document being reviewed by his attorney, Emily Gause of Seattle, center, during a pretrial hearing at the County-City Building in Tacoma on Sept. 27. dkoepfler@thenewstribune.com

The way William Alvarez-Calo came to be charged with first-degree murder might be more bizarre than the homicide itself.

It started with what must be a contender for the worst plea deal in history.

Alvarez-Calo, now 30, wanted to make a trade:

He would tell investigators about a 2012 drug cartel homicide in Lakewood if prosecutors dropped misdemeanor charges for driving with a suspended license and a felony charge for identity theft, for handing an officer someone else’s driver’s license.

Scared of cartel members behind bars, Alvarez-Calo wanted to get out of jail.

The plan backfired for Alvarez-Calo after he talked to investigators without an attorney in the room and ended up allegedly implicating himself in a fatal shooting.

One misdemeanor and the identify theft allegation went away, but they were replaced by the murder charge.

How that all happened and what it means for his pending trial was the subject of a hearing last week before Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson.

The lawyers are to make their final arguments Monday (Oct. 3) , after which Cuthbertson will rule on whether Alvarez-Calo’s statements to police can be used at trial.

His attorneys in the homicide case, Leslie Tolzin and Emily Gause, argue the statements shouldn’t be used because during questioning Alvarez-Calo wasn’t read his Miranda rights, which include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

“There is no information about our client until he goes in there and basically starts talking about stuff, without really any reason to,” Gause said. “It’s really very weird.”

Tolzin and Gause also contend that not having an attorney present amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel, which violated his constitutional right to an attorney.

Gause described that as “sort of a unique and creative argument, because we don’t have case law on point on this issue in Washington.”

Prosecutors argue the interviews were voluntary.

“In this case, the defendant initiated the contact with police and arranged to meet with them,” Deputy Prosecutor Maureen Goodman wrote the court in response to Alvarez-Calo’s arguments.

“The defendant was not under investigation or in custody for the shooting and was not entitled to an attorney.”

It was Alvarez-Calo, prosecutors have said, who organized the hit against a rival drug dealer in a Mexican cartel. Alvarez-Calo has argued he helped arrange the killing, but was following orders from a superior.

Things went wrong when the people he allegedly hired killed the wrong person. In addition to Alvarez-Calo, six people have been charged in the shooting.

Jaime Diaz-Solis, 32, died after being shot in the head at his apartment Nov. 12, 2012. Police said the group was supposed to kill his roommate and cousin, Juan Hidalgo-Mendoza, and that they shot Diaz-Solis because it looked as if he was reaching for something.

Adding to the botched nature of the job, one of the accused hit men dropped his car keys as he fled and had to get his vehicle towed away from the area near the shooting.

A couple months later, investigators found 32 pounds of heroin and 4 pounds of methamphetamine hidden in the walls of the apartment, and Hidalgo-Mendoza was convicted of narcotics crimes.

But investigators struggled to prove who was responsible for the fatal shooting.

Then, in February 2013, Alvarez-Calo suggested he provide information to make his other charges go away.

At the time he had two attorneys — Mary Kay High, who was representing him for his felony case, and Kristin Fay, who was representing him in Lakewood Municipal Court.

According to Alvarez-Calo’s motion, he asked Fay about making a deal. She asked a friend, a Lakewood court clerk married to a Lakewood police detective, if investigators knew about a cartel murder.

The clerk texted her husband, who said right away that detectives were aware of the homicide and wanted to talk to Alvarez-Calo.

Because Fay hadn’t worked on a deal like that before, she had another attorney at her firm, Ken Harmell, handle it.

High, the felony attorney, said she was out of town around that time and did not know another attorney was negotiating for her client, concerning her case.

Harmell said on the stand last week that he tried to talk Alvarez-Calo out of cooperating with police, and that when his client insisted he made the best deal he could on the spot.

“I expressed to him multiple times that I thought it was a very bad idea,” Harmell testified.

When it was pointed out that he still could have attended the interview or sent another attorney, Harmell said, “In hindsight, I probably should have.”

The day of the deal, Feb. 22, 2013, investigators took Alvarez-Calo from Lakewood Municipal Court to the Lakewood police station, where they started to talk to him.

“Within the first few minutes, Mr. Alvarez-Calo implicated himself as an accomplice in large-scale heroin deals,” Tolzin and Gause wrote in their motion requesting that his statements to police not be allowed at trial.

“In later questioning, Mr. Alvarez-Calo clearly implicated himself as an accomplice in the cartel murder, admitting that he connected his ‘boss’ to people that he believed would carry out the murder.”

By that point, High learned the first interview had happened, told Harmell she thought the agreement had been a bad idea, and she emailed police to say she wished to be there for any further questioning. But that didn’t happen.

Alvarez-Calo did two more interviews with investigators the next month, also without an attorney in the room.

Tolzin and Gause wrote the court that Alvarez-Calo “was manipulated by these officers into completely confessing to his involvement in a murder without ever knowing that his statements would be the basis for the entire investigation and subsequent prosecution.

“He would have said and done anything he could to get himself out of jail. Mr. Alvarez-Calo was terrified of remaining in the jail with Cartel members and relayed threats and safety concerns to detectives many times throughout the interviews.”

Prosecutors pointed out that he kept talking to investigators when he was released from jail. Alvarez-Calo’s attorneys said he believed he had to do that as part of his agreement with prosecutors.

The final recorded interview between Alvarez-Calo and investigators was June 21, 2013. This time he was riding in a vehicle with them as they talked, and he was read his Miranda rights.

As they pulled into the parking lot outside the Pierce County Jail, Lakewood police investigator Jason Catlett told Alvarez-Calo he was going to be arrested.

He responded with a four letter word and asked what he could tell them to stay out of jail.

As for the homicide, he told the investigator, “It was not my decision.”

The two can be heard arguing on the tape about whether Alvarez-Calo was following orders to set up the hit or whether it was his own attempt to try to take over part of the drug scene, such as in Aberdeen and Olympia.

But even if he was following orders, Catlett said at one point, “You can say no to killing people. That’s acceptable, even in the drug world.”

He said Alvarez-Calo should have stopped the murder, not orchestrated it.

And he told “Willie” he appreciated the information he’d shared, adding, “This case would have been very hard to solve had you not come forward.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

Others charged in the death of Jaime Diaz-Solis

▪ Mazzar Robinson, 44, and Michael Rowland, 32 were convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and attempted first-degree robbery. Robinson also was convicted of first-degree conspiracy to commit murder and unlawful gun possession.

Earlier this month, Judge Cuthbertson sentenced Rowland to 25 years in prison and Robinson to life without parole, because the conviction was his third strike under Washington’s “three strikes” law.

▪ Fidel Gaytan Gutierrez Jr., 33, got 12 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, first-degree burglary, second-degree assault and first-degree rendering criminal assistance.

▪ Ray Steven Turner, 34, got 12 years, two months after he pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and first-degree rendering criminal assistance.

▪ Robert Leon Smith Jr., 36, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and attempted first-degree robbery. He awaits sentencing.

▪ Jiffary Alexander Mendez, 31, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree burglary and first-degree robbery. He has not yet been sentenced.

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