When Rafael Mora-Contreras walked into a courtroom Thursday, April 26, he once again faced accusations he took part in a grisly and heinous killing in 2000.
Though he was convicted in 2003 and spent the past 15 years in prison, he was granted a retrial after he and his counsel pointed out he was restrained in court by a stun belt — a use that's been recently curbed — and was tried at the same time as another man, instead of separately.
In 2000, Gonzalo Pizano was engaged, ready to settle down and start a family. But he never got the chance.
"The reason of my brother's death was so the wedding would not carry out," his sister Juana told KOIN 6 News.
The official version of events that led to the 2003 conviction is this: Pizano was kidnapped by Mora-Contreras and Joseph David Noble, who was also convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2003. They burned his car and took him to Hagg Lake. There, they stabbed him in the heart and shot him. Before he died, they slit his throat.
"A judge said he had never, in his history being a judge, witnessed or seen anything like that," Juana Pizano said of her brother's murder. "More so because the way my brother was killed."
Members of Pizano's family said they never heard about the appeal process for Mora-Contreras until recently.
Sisters Juana and Marisol Pizano were in court Thursday afternoon, for a status check on Mora-Contreras' case, to represent their slain brother.
"What's upsetting me is that it took me back 18 years ago when we first learned my brother was murdered," Juana Pizano told KOIN 6 News. "Sitting there in the courthouse today and looking at the person who murdered my brother and I was not able to contain myself until I was able to get out of the courtroom. All I could think about is, 'Why are we here? Why is my family here 18 years later and why do I have to go through this feeling?'"
She said the Oregon Department of Justice failed the family and wants to know who's paying for this trial. The original trial, she said, was the most expensive (at that time) in Washington County.
"At the end of the day, he will be convicted again for murdering my brother. He just wants to be released early," Juana Pizano said. "Do you want a convicted murderer out?"
"My brother did not get a second chance at life," Marisol Pizano said. "Why is he getting a second chance at retrial?"
She said their mother had to leave the courtroom because she was overcome with emotion.
According to court records, a Marion County judge determined in November that Mora-Contreras' legal counsel at the time of the original trial had not been competent. A retrial was officially ordered in January, and Washington County Circuit Judge Charles Bailey signed an order vacating the 2003 judgment on Tuesday, April 17.
The trial itself may not begin for another year in a prolonged process.
Regardless of how long it takes, the Pizano family vows to stand strong.
"We're going to be here at every court hearing, every small motion," Marisol Pizano said. "You guys will always see us here."
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