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Former gang member convicted in 1998 Santa Ana killing

June 13, 2012 |  6:52 pm

A former gang member was convicted Wednesday in the 1998 murder of a 23-year-old Santa Ana man whose body was later found in an ice-packed kiddie pool.

Ramon Alvarez, 37, was found guilty of shooting fellow gang member Ruben Leal to death with an assault rifle during a dispute in the backyard of a Santa Ana home in the early morning hours of June 28, 1998.

At the time, a neighbor called police who then found the body in the inflatable pool stored in a shed, said Det. Dave Rondou with the Santa Ana Police Department. The residents told authorities that Leal had committed suicide, he said.

Even though Alvarez, known as "Payaso" or clown in Spanish, was a suspect at the time, police didn't have enough evidence then, except for a jailhouse informant who said Alvarez had confessed to him in jail, authorities said.

But police and the informant couldn't come to an agreement to elicit his testimony and the case went cold.

Years later, Rondou visited the informant in prison and he finally agreed to testify, authorities said.

The informant, who is dying of liver disease in prison, said he wanted to do something good, said Mark Geller, a deputy district attorney. The testimony ended up being "absolutely key," Geller said.

Alvarez, who by then had a family and had settled down, was arrested in 2010 and his first trial this year resulted in a hung jury.

On Wednesday, he was convicted of second-degree murder and the personal use of a firearm for the benefit of a gang. He could face life in prison and will be sentenced July 6.

Rondou said it feels good to bring closure to Leal's family, especially his mother.

"It's been a long journey for her," he said.

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-- Nicole Santa Cruz

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