The state attorney general's office on Thursday dropped murder charges against a self-described Mafia-hit-man-turned-minister accused of killing a Cabazon Indian tribal leader and two others in 1981.
James Hughes, 53, faced murder and conspiracy charges in the shooting deaths of tribal Vice Chairman Fred A. Alvarez, Patricia R. Castro and Ralph A. Boger near Indio. Alvarez had planned to go to authorities with evidence of reputed mobsters skimming casino profits when he was slain.
During a court hearing in Indio, Deputy Atty. Gen. Mike Murphy told a Riverside County Superior Court judge that his office was dropping the charges because of new evidence uncovered by state prosecutors investigating the 29-year-old case. Neither Murphy nor a spokesman for Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown provided details on those new findings.
"We conducted an exhaustive review of the evidence provided by the Sheriff's Department, re-interviewed key witnesses and uncovered additional evidence tied to the case," said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown. "This process and the new information our office discovered materially changed our assessment of the nature and quality of the evidence."
Hughes was expected to be released from jail, authorities said. The attorney general's office asked that the charges be dismissed without prejudice, meaning charges could be filed at a later date.
The attorney general's office had been prosecuting the case because Hughes is a distant cousin of Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco. Pacheco lost a bid for reelection in June to Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul Zellerbach, however, creating the possibility that the new district attorney could take over the case.
Boger's daughter, Rachel Begley, spent years gathering evidence against Hughes and tracking his whereabouts, even after Hughes became director of Miami-based Jimmy Hughes Ministry and moved to Honduras.
Begley, who worked closely with detectives from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, was livid about the prosecutor's decision to drop the charges.
"This is a miscarriage of justice. The case against him, since it was filed nine months ago, has not changed," Begley said. "I'm not going to give up. I'm not done. I'm going to speak justice for my dad, Fred and Patricia."
Hughes, an ex-Army Ranger and former security director at the Cabazon casino and the tribe's bingo operations, was charged in October with the crimes, dubbed the "octopus murders" because the tentacles of complex conspiracy spread worldwide.
The Times reported in 1991 that at the time of the killings, the reservation's casino room was run by a reputed organized crime figure and that Alvarez began complaining that money was being skimmed. Shortly afterward, he and the two others were killed. The three victims were found on Alvarez's back patio, each shot in the head with a .38-caliber handgun.
Begley tracked Hughes for two years and, with Alvarez's son, confronted him at a 2008 religious conference in Fresno and secretly filmed their conversation.
"Your parents got killed in a Mafia hit. That's life. That's what happened," Hughes was taped as saying.