Angelica Reyes demands justice for her son’s South Phoenix killing | Phoenix New Times

2 men took Angel Reyes for a ride. He ended up in the morgue

On what would have been his 22nd birthday, his mom wants justice in a case the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office refuses to prosecute.
On Thursday, Angel Reyes would have turned 22. But he was gunned down in 2021 in a case Maricopa County prosecutors said they can't prosecute.
On Thursday, Angel Reyes would have turned 22. But he was gunned down in 2021 in a case Maricopa County prosecutors said they can't prosecute. Angelica Reyes
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Angelica Reyes wiped away tears as she sat in a camping chair by the grave of her son, Angel Reyes, who was gunned down in South Phoenix at the age of 19.

Reyes, 41, said she visits her son's plot at Greenwood Cemetery every day. She also tends to a roadside memorial at South 13th Place and East Vineyard Road, where Angel was shot and killed on Nov. 23, 2021, by one of two young men who supposedly promised him a ride to the house of a friend.

Angel never made it there. According to police and court records, one of the men asked to see the Glock that Angel carried for protection. Angel evidently knew both men and trusted them. He gave up his weapon, which was then used to shoot him.

Police have statements from both men, saying they picked up Angel and that they were present at the site of the homicide. But they point to each other as the shooter. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office declined to prosecute, citing a lack of evidence and problems with the admissibility of the suspects' statements.

The situation infuriates and saddens Angelica Reyes. One of the suspects is walking free; he even showed up for Angel's funeral before she knew about his involvement in the crime. Both of the suspects flaunted Angel's gun on social media after the killing, according to police.

Reyes doesn't believe assertions from police and prosecutors that there is little they can do. She fears for her family's safety. But most of all, she wants justice for Angel.

The oldest of her four children, Angel wanted to be an electrician and was working at a local Dairy Queen, saving his money. Reyes was close to her firstborn, and his death shattered her.

"I know at least six people who've lost their kids to gun violence, to murder," Reyes said. "It's like a club you never want to be in, but you're there."

Angel had been robbed before, which is why he carried the gun. At the time of his death, he'd been couchsurfing. Until he turned 19, Reyes was strict with her son. Then he asserted his young adulthood. "He was just like, 'Mom, I'm 19 now,'" she recalled, saying Angel would stay with friends for a few days, then come back to live in Reyes' west Phoenix home.

"I would tell him, Angel, if anything ever happens to you, I would lose my mind," she said.
click to enlarge Angelica Reyes in cemetery
Angelica Reyes at the grave of her son, Angel, who was shot and killed in 2021.
Stephen Lemons

Stuck on a legal technicality

According to police and court records, the two suspects — Lister "Slumpy" Gonzalez, 21, and Michael Able Hernandez, 19 — acknowledged they were present when Angel was shot and killed with a single bullet from his own gun.

Both men were questioned separately on more than one occasion by Phoenix police. Each time, Gonzalez and Hernandez blamed each other for the shooting.

Hernandez, who was 17 at the time of the killing in 2021, was arrested by Phoenix police on July 26, 2022, on suspicion of armed robbery and first-degree murder in connection with Reyes' killing, according to court records. A spokesperson for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, which runs the county jails, said Hernandez was released the next day with no charges being filed. Gonzalez was never arrested in connection with the Reyes slaying.

Despite other evidence — including an apology letter written by Hernandez — the Maricopa County Attorney's Office turned down prosecuting the case, telling Reyes in a form letter that there was "no reasonable likelihood of conviction."

Reyes said Deputy County Attorney Lou Giaquinto told her in a phone conversation that the admissions by the suspects were inadmissible under the Bruton rule, which refers to a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bruton v. United States.

In Bruton, the court held that at a joint trial, a defendant's confession implicating his co-defendant was inadmissible if the defendant was not testifying. Admitting the full confession would violate the co-defendant's right to confront his or her accuser as enshrined in the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

An MCAO spokesperson, speaking on background to Phoenix New Times, said that since Gonzalez and Hernandez "made implicating statements against each other," the Bruton rule would apply.

The spokesperson added, "The defendants couldn’t be tried separately as there was no evidence to point to one defendant over the other. Additionally, even in a separate trial, the Bruton rule would still apply as their statements would be inadmissible in court." He pointed out that there is "no statute of limitations on homicide cases," implying things could change if more evidence comes forth.

Reyes understood the Bruton rule because of her work for a local attorneys' office. But, she wonders, does this mean people can literally get away with murder?

"Why can't they charge them with at least robbery, armed robbery with a deadly weapon?" Reyes said. "Why don't they charge the one and not the other? I fail to understand how the Bruton rule has that much reach, yet other cases have been tried with far less."
click to enlarge Mugshots of Lister Gonzalez and Michael Able Hernandez
Lister Gonzalez, 21, and Michael Able Hernandez, 19, told police they were present at the shooting of Angel Reyes, but they blamed each other for the killing.
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

‘Are you going to do me like that?’

The suspects' statements are not the only evidence in the case. Phoenix police obtained cell phone records for Angel, Gonzalez and Hernandez and discovered that they exchanged direct messages on the night of the killing. Angel asked for a ride to South Phoenix, and the two men said they would oblige.

Questioned while in prison for another offense, Gonzalez initially denied being with the victim. But police told him they obtained GPS records from his phone, placing him at the scene of the crime. So he copped to being in the car.

Reyes' home security camera caught footage of Angel being picked up in a four-door sedan, according to a Phoenix police incident report. Also, Angel shot a cell phone video while he was in the back of Gonzalez's silver 2013 Toyota Corolla, with the two men up front. Police claimed that in the video "a tattoo on the arm of the front passenger matched to defendant (Gonzalez)."

Homicide detectives showed Gonzalez photos posted to social media with Gonzalez and Hernandez "posing with Angel's Glock after the murder," according to the report. Gonzalez told police he had not been "thinking clearly" when he allowed that photo to be taken.

Gonzalez's account of the crime, according to police, goes like this: He was seated on the passenger side of the car. Hernandez drove. Gonzalez was armed with a Glock 19, and there was an AR-15 in the back of the car. Angel had his Glock "equipped with a weapon-mounted laser light." Hernandez was unarmed.

Gonzalez told police that Hernandez "asked Angel to see his gun," and "unsuspecting of Michael's plans," Angel handed over his Glock. Hernandez pulled the car over, ostensibly to "take a piss."

Instead, Gonzalez claimed, Hernandez "activated the gun's blue-beamed laser" and "pointed the gun at Angel," ordering him out of the car.

Angel got out, asking, "Are you going to do me like that?"

"A single gunshot answered Angel's question," according to the report.

Gonzalez told police he didn't witness the shot that took down Angel because he had his eyes closed. He and Hernandez initially fled but doubled back to look for the shell casing. That's when he saw Angel on the ground, dead.

An autopsy report by the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner listed Angel's cause of death as "gunshot wound to the head." Angel was shot in his left eye at close range, it said.

The report mentioned that a "deformed projectile" had been extracted from the wound. But Reyes said she was told that not enough of the bullet survived for police to analyze. Similarly, the police never secured the cartridge from the fired round.

During interrogation, the police asked Gonzalez why his DNA was found on Angel's body. Gonzalez surmised that it came from a "friendly embrace." A detective also asked Gonzalez why his DNA was found on Angel's necklace. Gonzalez couldn't explain how it got there.

Gonzalez said he asked Hernandez why he shot Angel. Hernandez supposedly told him that "the only way he could accomplish the robbery would be to kill Angel to prevent retaliation from Angel's family."

Hernandez's version of events was similar, but with Gonzalez as the shooter. After initially denying involvement, Hernandez admitted to driving the car, with Gonzalez riding shotgun and Angel in the back. Hernandez said Gonzalez "robbed Angel of his necklace," took Angel's gun, ordered Angel out of the car and shot him.

Hernandez claimed Gonzalez had a beef with Angel over a marijuana transaction. Gonzalez denied this to police.

Both Gonzalez and Hernandez acknowledged they did not report the incident to police.

Reyes said the case agent told her police recovered Angel's gun but could not match it definitively to the crime.
click to enlarge
Michael Hernandez apologized to the family of Angel Reyes after Reyes was killed in 2021.
Courtesy of Angelica Reyes

‘Wrong place, wrong time’

Reyes showed New Times a letter supposedly written by Hernandez at the prompting of police. In it, Hernandez gives his condolences to Angel's family.

"I am sorry for the lost (sic) of Angel," stated the letter, which Reyes said she obtained from police. "I know what you guys are going thru is something that will never heal, but I just hope you can forgive me for being at the wrong place, wrong time."

"I will never be forgiven and I'm sorry I just wish I could take time back and I wouldn't have never had brought Lister (Gonzalez) around Angel," the letter continued. It's signed, "Michael H."

Vince Goddard, a veteran prosecutor with the Pinal County Attorney's Office, said he believed the letter, which New Times read to him, would be admissible, minus the line about Gonzalez. The letter places him at the scene and can be used with other evidence, such as the text messages, Angel's video, GPS records and any DNA.

The statements from Gonzalez and Hernandez could likely be used against them, if properly redacted, he said. "Bruton is never a bar to prosecution," Goddard said. "You're focusing the jury on the other evidence that convicts the guy more than just the statement."

And if the other evidence is weak? Goddard admitted that was "hard."

"You don't give up on murder," he said.

Goddard did not review the police and court documents in the Reyes case but pointed to the 1987 Supreme Court case Richardson v. Marsh, which involved the admissibility of a defendant's confession, redacted to excise mentions of the co-defendant.

"Richardson basically said, look, you can excise the statement or edit the statement so that you don't name the other person," he said.

A court hearing would be necessary to redact portions of the statement, Goddard said.
click to enlarge Roadside memorial
A memorial for Angel Reyes at South 13th Place and East Vineyard Road in Phoenix.
Stephen Lemons

They’re no angels

Since Angel's death, both Gonzalez and Hernandez have had issues with the law. Gonzalez is in prison doing a four-year stint for armed robbery in connection with stealing a young man's PlayStation 5 at gunpoint in December 2021, according to court documents. Police records stated Gonzalez claimed Hernandez, wearing a mask, was his accomplice and pistol-whipped the victim.

In April 2023, Phoenix police arrested Hernandez on 24 counts of unlawful discharge of a firearm and possessing four semi-automatic handguns that he had illegally converted to automatic.

Through a national database, police connected shell casings at 19 separate incidents to Hernandez. These involved drive-by shootings where unknown suspects fired at cars, a man on a motorcycle, a townhouse and vacant lots. In one case, an occupied Maserati parked in a driveway was hit multiple times. No one was injured, but police recovered 14 .40-caliber casings fired from two handguns.

Hernandez pleaded guilty to four counts involving disorderly conduct with weapons, discharging a weapon within city limits and possessing a prohibited weapon. He was sentenced to nine months in jail and three years of probation.

Hernandez's public defender did not respond to a call for comment. An attempt to reach Hernandez by phone was unsuccessful.

By contrast, Angel had no criminal convictions. Court records show one charge for possession of marijuana in 2020 that was dismissed. His Facebook page shows him displaying his Glock.

Angel regularly gave his mother and siblings money from his paycheck and bought them ice cream.

Reyes said she's dissatisfied with the work county prosecutors and police have done on her son's slaying. The case agent recently told her he's retiring, so he'll be handing the file to another detective. He told her not to expect the new detective to contact her unless there are new developments, Reyes said.

She's irked by all the media attention surrounding the Gilbert Goons and a string of aggravated assaults in the East Valley. Where's the outrage for homicide victims in west and South Phoenix, she asked?

Thursday, March 7, is Angel's birthday. He would have been 22.

"What else does he have to do to get some attention, to get some justice?" Reyes asked. "Is it because of where he comes from? Why does that even have to be a factor in it? He died, he asked for a ride. Why is there nothing being done?"

She was riled to find out that Hernandez, who also lives in west Phoenix, was released from jail in early January. She said Hernandez attended her son's funeral in December 2021, laying a rose on Angel's coffin. She didn't know who he was at the time.

It was only later, when a detective sent her Hernandez's mugshot, that she recognized him from the funeral.

"It makes me fucking angry," Reyes said. "It makes me angry that this kid is just doing whatever he wants, and no one is doing anything about it. It makes me angry that at any point I could run into him at any of the stores around here, that my other kids could be with me, and they're going to know who he is. It breaks my heart all over again."
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