Published December 19, 2003 by Susan Herendeen, Bee Staff Writer

No one will pay for the murder of 18-year-old Cesar Villa, who was shot in the back while he rode a bicycle near Mark Twain Junior High School in west Modesto.

Thursday, a jury acquitted Alejandro Alvarez, 25, of murder after a two-week trial in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Earlier the same day, officials released Johnny Nunez, 27, who pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact. He was sentenced to time served, or 778 days, in return for his testimony against Alvarez.

Shortly after the verdict was read, jurors said they were angry with the system, because they did not believe conflicting stories Nunez told during three trips to the witness stand.

"We feel the wrong person is out," said juror Jamie Deleissigues of Modesto. "He shouldn't have been let go."

The March 6, 2001, shooting happened shortly after a fight between Alvarez, Nunez and several young men. Villa, who had been in the United States for only two months, was the last to flee the scene. He was shot as he tried to ride away.

During the trial, deputy district attorney Frank Alvarez said Alejandro Alvarez (no relation) fired the bullets that killed Villa. The shots came from inside his mother's white Mustang, which Alejandro Alvarez was driving down California Avenue.

Defense attorney Robert Forkner said passenger Nunez got a gun from the trunk after the car stopped on California Avenue, then fired several rounds at Villa.

After the shooting, Alejandro Alvarez and Nunez both fled to Mexico, separately.

Alejandro Alvarez returned voluntarily after Villa's death was discussed on a television program called "Primer Impacto."

He turned himself in to U.S. Customs officials in San Jose in June 2001 and has been in jail ever since.

Nunez landed in a Mexican jail after allegedly robbing a bus driver at knifepoint. He was extradited after his family tipped off the Modesto Police Department.

Forkner said prosecutors should charge Nunez with perjury and other crimes.

"Maybe the district attorney's office can figure out who should be charged with this murder," Forkner said.

Frank Alvarez declined to comment. Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley, a spokeswoman for the office, said prosecutors believe Nunez.

"We believe we tried the right person," Shipley said.

Alejandro Alvarez may face another trial, for allegedly participating in a criminal street gang.

Judge Al Girolami declared a mistrial after the jury split 10-2 on that charge. The majority said Alejandro Alvarez is not a gang member.

Shipley said officials have not decided if they will pursue the case.

Alejandro Alvarez had flushed red cheeks and a big smile when the proceedings were over. Sheriff's deputies led him back to the jail so he could pick up his belongings and complete some final paperwork.

His family members said they are eager to have him back at home, and relieved by the outcome.

"We were so nervous," said Nina Perez, his aunt.