Nowadays one can be portrayed as a wanton murderer on a nationally televised program, get killed by police less than 48 hours later, and have the nation invited by television to applaud the death within the week.
That fate befell Cesar Mazariego-Molina, 26, an undocumented worker from El Salvador, who L.A. County sheriff's deputies said killed rookie Sheriff's Deputy Nelson Yamamoto in a gun battle. Less than two days after the case was featured on the TV program America's Most Wanted, New York State police killed him with a shotgun blast to the back of the head.
Mazariego-Molina's family contends he was the victim of vigilante justice, encouraged by perhaps intentionally erroneous information from the L.A. Sheriff's Department transmitted by a national television broadcast.
Mazariego-Molina was wanted in the killing of Yamamoto, who died in a shootout at the home of Homero-Isadoro Ibarra in East Los Angeles on March 29. Ibarra was killed in the incident; his children allegedly identified Mazariego-Molina as taking part in the battle.
Sheriff's Department officials contacted producers of the Fox network's television program. In a six-minute segment headed "Cop Killers" (4/6/92), the show broadcast photos of Mazariego-Molina along with interviews with angry deputies and Yamamoto's girlfriend.
Host John Walsh described Mazariego-Molina as a convicted rapist who had murdered his uncle and was a member of El Salvador's death squads. A detective said of the suspect, "He has no value for human life. Killing, to him, is like a hobby."
Mazariego-Molina's family insists that he never carried any weapon, not even a knife. Felix Mazariego-Molina said his brother was never convicted of any crime, and had no connection with the Salvadoran security forces. He said his brother was in New York State, near where he eventually died, at the time of the murder the L.A. Sheriff's Department alleges he committed."They can say whatever they want about him, now he is dead," Felix said.
On April 6, two days after the broadcast, the owner of the Demobrowski Orchard in Plattekill, N.Y., 90 miles north of Manhattan, recognized Mazariego-Molina as one of the migrant workers who tend his apple trees. Police and the FBI were called in.
Within 15 minutes of police spotting him, Mazariego-Molina was shot dead from behind. Although the orchard was cordoned off and searched for two days, no weapon was found either on the grounds or among Mazariego-Molina's possessions.
Jack Breslin, spokesperson for America's Most Wanted, said information on the show was provided by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. "As any media outlet would do, we report what the police tell us," he said.
L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy George Ducoulombier, a spokesperson for the department, could not corroborate any of the charges America's Most Wanted broadcast about Mazariego-Molina's background. "I don't know where that came from," he said when asked about the death squad charges. "We knew this guy was on the run, and we had a very good relationship with the media out here, and we went from there," Ducoulombier concluded.
On April 11, five days after he was killed by police, America's Most Wanted broadcast a second segment on Mazariego-Molina. "Last week," host John Walsh intoned, "the L.A. County Sheriff's Department asked for your help in finding the accused killer of one of their own. Deputies feared he might head for the border, but you answered the call. Three thousand miles away, and 48 hours later, the manhunt was over." Mazariego-Molina's death was presented as the show's 197th successful "capture."