The suspect in a fatal shooting that happened 25 years ago on Santa Barbara’s Eastside was captured last month in Mexico City after years of collaboration between authorities north and south of the border. Pedro Alonso Bravo will now face trial in Mexico for the 1988 murder of a man he worked with and who came from the same Mexican town.
Bernardo Santos-Sierra — 24 years old when he was shot and killed — was a very friendly guy who was helpful to friends, his brother Apolonio Santos-Sierra told reporters through a Spanish interpreter Thursday morning. The victim and Bravo knew each other, Apolonio said. They both worked at a car wash in town, played cards together, and used to get along well, he explained.
According to newspaper reports at the time, Bravo was accused of “killing a man who was waiting to go drinking with him.” There were six shots fired, according to a 1988 News-Press report, from a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun. Police said Bravo walked out of his home, said something to Santos-Sierra, and shot him. The shooting wasn’t reported until some time later by a passing driver. “It’s possible no one heard anything, as they say,” Lt. Don Williams told the News-Press at the time. “But that seems strange. The whole case seems strange.”
The newspaper said police thought Bravo fled to Mexico. At a press conference Thursday morning, Police Chief Cam Sanchez said it wasn’t clear where Bravo went immediately after the murder, or where exactly he spent the last 25 years. He was arrested March 8. The parents of the victim now live in Mexico, and, according to Apolonio, are extremely grateful. “We feel good because at least there’s going to be justice here,” he said.
Bravo won’t be extradited to the United States, however. Under the Mexican penal code, Mexican nationals alleged to have committed crimes in foreign countries and then flee back to Mexico can be arrested and prosecuted there.
Mexican authorities are not obligated to accept or prosecute cases from the United States. But Sanchez credited Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte and Det. Crystal Bedolla with their persistent work in this case. The same duo worked to track down another murderer who was arrested in Mexico in 2011. Bedolla, he said, was persuasive in getting Mexican authorities on board, while Duarte worked to relocate many of the witnesses decades later.
There is no statute of limitations for murder in the United States, but there is in Mexico, which meant it was important to pull the pieces together quickly. Bedolla “persisted and persisted” with Mexican authorities, Sanchez said. “We’re going to pull no punches and spare no resources to find a murderer,” Sanchez said.
Duarte said the department began to pursue Bravo again in 2005. Mexican authorities told Santa Barbara police they at first had a general idea of where Bravo was living, and then a more specific idea, Duarte said. “I’m extremely proud of everyone in this,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez developed the cold case unit a few years ago and has had decent success putting those pending investigations to rest. At the time he created the unit, there were 26 or 27 cold case murders on the books. Currently, the department has 18, the oldest dating back to 1961, when 7-year-old Ramona Price disappeared. Police thought Price’s body may be entombed in the Winchester Overpass, and, during a 2011 construction project, searched the area but came up empty. The most recent case to head to the unit was the 2010 murder of Samuel Bautista Justo in his apartment bedroom on Bath Street.
Those in the unit meet once a month to talk about where their cases stand. “It might be called a cold case, but it’s certainly not a forgotten case,” Sanchez said.