Domingo Anaya Bustos, a resident of Modesto, California, and Michoacan, Mexico, was freed after serving over 21 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. With help from lawyers at NCIP and Keker, Van Nest & Peters, Bustos was re-sentenced to time-served and will return to Mexico to be with his family, especially his grandmother, who visited him from Mexico every two years during his 21 years behind bars. Bustos pled no contest to manslaughter in a killing to which someone else confessed. Bustos always maintained his innocence and did so even during the plea. It is a murder for which he likely would not have been charged, if all the evidence had been available from the start.
Bustos’ story shows that sometimes justice is imperfect. That is true even when all the parties—the District Attorney’s office, NCIP and Keker, the guilty and the wrongly accused—seem to be seeking true justice. From the moment evidence pointing to Bustos’ innocence emerged, the trial prosecutor tried, more than once, to bring it to the court’s attention. In reviewing Bustos’ case, the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office worked hard to make sure all pertinent exculpatory facts were fairly considered, and agreed to amend Bustos’ conviction in a way that facilitated his release in exchange for the plea. This is the reason why Bustos pled no contest to a crime he didn’t commit. He considers it the price for his freedom. “Whatever days God has left for my grandmother, I want to spend them with her.”
In 1996 in Modesto, four men were in a car when the front passenger turned around and shot and killed the passenger in the seat directly behind him. The other back seat passenger, the victim’s brother-in-law, went to the police. He described the killer, whom he did not know, as a light-skinned, 40-something man weighing about 180 pounds. He also gave the name of the driver, Jose Luis Zepeda. The police, investigating the driver, homed in on his cousin with a drug possession on his record—Bustos— as their primary suspect for the shooter.
In a photo lineup, the brother-in-law did not identify Bustos—at first. But, then police showed him a photo of Bustos a second time. Recognizing that was the only person police had shown him twice, the brother-in-law identified Bustos as the shooter. However, Bustos was 25 (not 40-something). At the time he weighed 140 pounds (not 180) and is dark-skinned. Nonetheless, they went to trial, twice.
Two trials and a snitch
The first trial ended in a hung jury, with 8 jurors voting to acquit. Bustos was retried. At the second trial, the prosecutor had a new witness: a serial jailhouse informant, who testified that Bustos confessed to him.