Gang Members Convicted of Stomping Eighth-Grader to Death, as His Big Brother Tried to Help
Three California gang members were convicted this week in connection with the 2012 murder of an eighth-grade boy, who was stomped to death in public because his attackers mistakenly believed he was in a rival gang, PEOPLE confirms.
The boy’s big brother – who was with him that day, April 27, 2012 – was also attacked as he tried to help, prosecutors say.
On Tuesday, Jacob Lynch, 20, and Clemente Salas, 19, were convicted of first-degree murder in the death of 14-year-old Heriberto Reyes, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Carlos Vega tells PEOPLE.
They both face life in prison without the possibility of parole when they’re sentenced in October, Vega says.
Vega says that on the day of his death, Reyes and his big brother, Juan, had just been dropped off to play basketball at Roosevelt Park in east San Jose, when a group of Norteños street gang members approached them.
“They mistook Heriberto for a Sureños gang member because he was wearing a blue hat,” Vega says. “They surrounded him and checked him for gang tattoos, and despite finding none, they attacked him anyway.”
(Vega says Norteños members typically wear all red, while Sureños members often dress in blue.)
Heriberto later died from massive head injuries.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Vega says a third man, 22-year-old Scott Conway, was found guilty of felony assault for beating up Juan as he attempted to stop the deadly fight.
Conway was also convicted for two previous separate assaults on young boys who were not in a gang, and he faces 40 years in prison, Vega says.
Five other men were charged in Heriberto’s death, and three agreed to cooperate with Vega’s office – facing lighter sentences in exchange for crucial testimony that helped secure Tuesday’s convictions, he says.
“What helped the case was the efforts of the cooperators – the three individuals who took part in this gang fight but ultimately turned evidence, and ended up testifying for us,” Vega says. “They were the catalyst that coalesced all the independent testimony we had received form eyewitnesses.”
Vega says he wants people to understand the danger gang activities pose to the general public.
“There is a sad misconception that gang members only terrorize and target other gang members,” Vega says. “Heriberto’s death is a tragic example of how criminal gangs threaten the entire citizenry.”
He “was a 14-year-old little boy who had finally gotten old enough to play basketball with his older brother,” Vega said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. “He was a victim of absolutely senseless gang violence.”
In a Facebook memorial group created after Heriberto’s death, his community has mourned his loss.
In a 2013 post, one classmate remembered his “big smile,” and wrote, “He was so nice.”