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Murder charges dropped against ministry director in 1981 Cabazon Reservation killings

July 1, 2010 |  3:38 pm
Charges have been dropped against a former casino security director turned preacher who was accused in the 1981 slayings of  a Riverside County tribal leader and two other people.

James "Jimmy" Hughes, 53, was charged in October with killing Cabazon Indian Reservation leader Fred Alvarez and the two others to stop them from exposing allegedly illegal activities on the reservation.

The slayings were known as the "Octopus Murders" because of the complexity of the case and the many theories that have circulated over the years about who committed the crimes.

In a court hearing in Riverside on Thursday,  the California attorney general's office asked that charges be dropped because of the quality of the evidence in the 29-year-old case and new information obtained by state law enforcement authorities.

"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 Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown. "This process and the new information our office discovered materially changed our assessment of the nature and quality of the evidence."

The attorney general's office had been prosecuting the case because Hughes is a distant cousin of Riverside Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco.

The Times reported in 1991 that the reservation's casino room was run by a reputed organized crime figure and that Alvarez, a tribal vice president, began complaining that money was being "skimmed." Shortly afterward, he and the two others were killed.

Hughes was expected to be released from jail, authorities said.

Hughes was security director for the reservation casino and its bingo operations. He later established a ministry in Honduras that provided counseling and other services to battered women and drug addicts in the Central American nation.

He was arrested at Miami International Airport while he was trying to return to Honduras.

--Robert J. Lopez