New trial granted for man jailed in 2001 murder

A DeKalb County judge has thrown out the murder conviction against a man who has spent 12 years behind bars for a crime he says he didn’t commit.

Superior Court Judge Daniel Coursey determined this week there is a reasonable probability that new evidence initially uncovered by federal authorities would result in a different verdict — not guilty — in the murder case against David Peralta. For this reason, Coursey granted Peralta’s motion for a new trial.

Peralta was convicted during a five-day trial held six months after the Jan. 25, 2001, murder of 22-year-old Rebecca Moore of Norcross. Prosecutors said Peralta, then a member of the Latin Kings gang, killed Moore because she openly criticized him in front of other gang members and was threatening to disclose their sexual relationship to Peralta’s fiancee, who was pregnant with his child.

Moore was fatally shot after leaving the club Ballyhoos. As the Cadillac she was riding in turned into a gas station on Pleasantdale Road, gunshots shattered the car’s windows. Moore died at the scene with bullet wounds in her neck and arm.

Peralta has always maintained his innocence, and his case was later taken up by the Atlanta law firm King & Spalding, which is representing him for free. On Friday, Tully Blalock, one of Peralta’s lawyers, declined to comment on Coursey’s ruling.

DeKalb District Attorney Robert James said he had received Coursey’s order and will closely review the case before deciding what to do next.

The new evidence came to light years later during a federal investigation of violent street gang activity. Two gang members told FBI agents and a federal grand jury that 16-year-old Daniel Cortes was Moore’s actual killer. Cortes, a member of the Sur-13 gang, was fatally shot at a Roswell park two months after Moore was killed.

Key statements come from two men who said they were in the car with Cortes when he fired shots into the Cadillac. Coursey noted that these two men’s statements are significant because they were essentially admitting to being parties to the crime.

U.S. Attorney Sally Yates has said when her office learned there was evidence indicating Peralta may not have committed Moore’s murder, federal prosecutors gave the new evidence to the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also provided the information in 2009 to Peralta’s lawyers and facilitated interviews of witnesses with Peralta’s legal team.

At Peralta’s trial, none of the passengers in the Cadillac identified Peralta as the shooter, but one said he saw the shooter out of the corner of his eye. He described the shooter as a light-skinned, bald-headed Hispanic man riding in the front passenger seat of a dark-green, four-door Honda with shiny rims.

In the motion for a new trial, Peralta’s lawyers presented evidence that Cortes was riding in a dark-green Daewoo, which closely resembled the car described by the surviving passengers in the Cadillac.