Ivan Miranda dreamed of being a rap artist.
But at age 14, he was chased down, robbed of an iPod and nearly decapitated near his home in the Excelsior District of San Francisco.
That was on July 31, 2008. Since then, two teenaged members of the MS-13 street gang were put on trial and convicted. Prosecutors say they were part of a gang “hunting” for rivals when they ran into Ivan, who was not a gang member, as he was returning the borrowed iPod to a friend that early morning.
“We thought we had found justice,” said Ivan’s older sister, Ibette Miranda, who attended the trials of the two defendants. Both were sentenced to terms of up to life in prison.
But on New Year’s Eve of 2020, the family learned a San Francisco judge had ordered the younger of the two gang members, Marlon Rivera, who was 16 at the time of the crime, freed.
Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn granted Rivera’s petition filed under the state’s 2019 revised felony murder rule. The new rule gives those convicted of felony murder a chance to show they were not major participants in the underlying crimes used to charge them.
The original felony murder rule allowed a participant in a violent crime that resulted in a death to be charged with first degree murder, even if the defendant was a comparatively lessor player and did not commit a violent act.
Judge Kahn noted that Rivera was a fledgling 16-year-old gang member who did not have a criminal record at the time of Ivan’s death. He stressed that he was not a major participant, based on the findings of the jury that he had not chased down Ivan at Persia and Madrid streets that morning and was not the gang member who stabbed him to death with a Samurai sword. A 17-year-old who the judge found responsible for that stabbing is serving a 40 years to life sentence.
But Ivan’s sister said the Dec. 21 ruling freeing Rivera has left her family devastated.
“My family hurts – they’re in pain,” said Ibette, who herself was 17 at the time of the attack. “I have to see my mom cry all over and all over again. That hurts me so much.”
She said she attended the trials and Rivera joked about her brother’s death, in a secretly recorded conversation with fellow gang members.
"What made me laugh is how he went down,” Rivera said in the recording played to the jury at his trial. He also talked casually about watching the boy die.
“He was part of it, on the recordings, there were recordings -- he was laughing at my brother,” Ibette said based on what she saw during the trial. “He said he admitted to doing it, too. And now, out of nowhere, they say he was not part of it?”
But Judge Kahn noted in his dismissal ruling that it was likely Rivera was just boasting to prove himself and win points as a fledgling member of the gang.
Rivera could be freed as soon as Jan. 20, when the judge overseeing the remaining charges in juvenile court considers whether to grant prosecutors’ request that Rivera be supervised upon release.
“He’s receiving a second chance, which we can’t,” a tearful Ibette said. “Ivan is not here anymore. We’re not going to have him back. I just want justice.”