A state appeals court today upheld the first-degree murder conviction and sentence of 53 years to life in prison for a Fremont man who fatally shot an Afghan-born mother of six in 2006.
Manuel Mares, 32, also known as Manuel Urango, was convicted by a jury in Alameda County Superior Court in 2008 of murdering Alia Ansari, 37, of Fremont, on the afternoon of Oct. 19, 2006.
Ansari was killed with one gunshot wound to the face as she walked with a 3-year-old daughter on a residential street to pick up two other daughters at Glenmoor Elementary School.
Witnesses saw a man run to an older-model black car and speed off afterward. Mares was arrested in his car 10 minutes later.
The conviction was unanimously upheld by a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco.
At the time of the murder, some members of Ansari’s family and of the Bay Area Muslim community questioned whether it may have been a hate crime. Ansari, who moved to the United States from Afghanistan in 1986, was wearing a headscarf when she was killed.
But prosecutor Jerry Herman said at the time of Mares’ conviction that the motive for the slaying was unknown.
Herman said that on the basis of a police interview with Mares and a review of Internet searches on his computer, it appeared that he was “an unhappy man” who felt that he was an outcast and had been treated unfairly and wanted to do a “random violent act.”
Mares had six previous convictions for felonies including grand theft, auto theft and possession of drugs.
After the murder, the Ansari family moved to Afghanistan, but Ansari’s husband and young daughter returned for the trial so that she could testify.
In his appeal, Mares claimed the daughter, Latifa, was not a reliable witness when she identified him as the killer at the trial. Latifa was nearly 4 at the time of the murder and was 5 years old when she testified in February 2008.
But the appeals court upheld the finding of the trial judge, Reginald Saunders, that the child knew the difference between the truth and a lie and was therefore competent to testify.
The appeals court also rejected Mares’ challenge to evidence showing he had searched on the Internet for information about silencers.
The panel said the evidence was relevant because several witnesses testified they heard a popping noise, as opposed to a gunshot. The quieter noise could indicate the killer used a silencer, the court said.
The murder weapon was never found, but particles consistent with gunshot residue were found on Mares’ left hand when he was arrested.