Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

The city of Brea will pay $700,000 to a man who was jailed for four months on suspicion of killing his mother and brother in 2011 before the deaths were linked to a suspected serial killer, according to court records obtained Wednesday.

Eder Herrera sued after he was arrested and charged with the stabbing deaths of his mother, 53-year-old Raquel Estrada, and brother Juan Herrera, 34, until evidence at the scene linked their slayings to Itzcoatl Ocampo, a former Marine also linked to the stabbing deaths of four homeless men.

Herrera accepted a $700,000 settlement last Thursday, according to federal court records. Each side must pay its own fees for attorneys and experts.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Herrera’s attorney, John Burton, called detectives’ work in the case “sloppy.”

“They were so sure from the outset they had the right guy, they didn’t entertain the evidence that led away from him,” Burton said. “If they’d gotten the right guy, (Ocampo) wouldn’t have killed four other people.”

Herrera was best friends with Ocampo in high school and kept in contact after Ocampo returned from the Marines, Burton said. But Ocampo was a changed man. He was paranoid and Herrera urged him to seek help, Burton told The Times. The advice fractured the friendship and led to Ocampo going to Herrera’s house to kill him and his family, Burton said.

Ocampo’s defense attorney, however, told City News Service last year that Ocampo was likely schizophrenic and that his murderous spree may have been inspired in part by an Eminem CD and a Dead Kennedys song, “Kill the Poor.”

Ocampo also sustained a traumatic brain injury while serving in the Marines in Iraq, according to his attorney, Randall Longwith. He suffered the non-combat injury while working on a Humvee.

Ocampo died while in custody on Thanksgiving Day in 2013. The cause of death remains under investigation, but attorneys said initially that he appeared to ingest Ajax, which is given to inmates to clean their cells.

Herrera was at a friend’s house the night of the slayings. His family is suspected of being Ocampo’s first two victims. Herrera now lives with his uncles in Riverside, Burton said. Ocampo was taken into custody by police four months later after a witness saw him stab his final victim and chased him into a nearby mobile home lot. He was later tied to the killings of Herrera’s mother and brother.

The settlement with Herrera was approved shortly after the city lost a legal battle to keep his attorneys from receiving records from the city of Anaheim. Anaheim police led a multi-city task force to catch the killer of the homeless victims.

In an April 20 filing, city officials cited concerns about an ongoing investigation being harmed by the release of the documents.

“The investigation confirmed Ocampo’s involvement in the Trix Circle murders, but did not establish that he was the only one responsible, nor has it cleared plaintiff of possible criminal involvement in the murders,” the city’s attorneys wrote in the motion. “Notwithstanding Ocampo’s death during his incarceration, the Trix Circle case remains open and active as to the possible involvement of another person(s), including possibly plaintiff, therein.”

The city’s attorneys argued police had probable cause to arrest Herrera because a neighbor told investigators he believed he saw Herrera drag something through the front door of the residence after hearing “desperate cries for help” the previous night.

Also, a friend told investigators that he and Herrera drove past his house the night of the murders but when the friend suggested stopping to see what all of the police activity was about Herrera wanted to keep going.

Herrera was released after an investigator “obtained a corroborated confession from Ocampo,” according to the city.

—City News Service

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