Almost 25 years after Bernardino Santos-Sierra was gunned down in the driveway of an Eastside home, his family gathered Thursday with Santa Barbara police officials to announce they believe his killer has finally been found.
The motives surrounding the killing were conflicting at the time, and have become more murky over the quarter-century since.
What is known is that on the evening of Sept. 30, 1988, Santos-Sierra and several friends drove past the 1300 block of Punta Gorda Street, and began talking to several people outside an Eastside home.
About 10 minutes later, witnesses said Pedro Alonso Bravo emerged from the home and gunned down Sierra, 24, with multiple shots, allegedly without provocation.
Conflicting stories emerged from the witnesses about whether there was bad blood between the victim and the suspect, who worked together at a Santa Barbara car wash, and were from the same town in Oaxaca, Mexico.
A warrant charging Bravo with homicide was obtained by Santa Barbara police, but he fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution the same year, Police Chief Cam Sanchez told reporters.
Police announced earlier this week that Bravo has been arrested by Mexican officials, news that Santos-Sierra’s family greeted with relief.
“We never expected that he would be caught,” Gabino Santos-Sierra, the victim’s brother, told Noozhawk through a translator.
Several family members were at Thursday’s press conference, and stood holding photos of Sierra while Sanchez spoke.
Another brother, Apolonio Santos-Sierra, said that his brother was born in Mexico, had come to Santa Barbara in 1986, and was friendly to everyone. Knowing that Bravo is in custody now gives his family a sense of closure.
“We feel good that justice will be served,” he said.
Sanchez called Thursday a “bittersweet day,” and reminded the public that just because a case has long been without new leads, “it’s not forgotten.”
Sanchez worked to establish the department’s cold-case unit after he first began as chief, and assigned two detectives to the case. Since then, several detectives have been instrumental on the case, most recently Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte and Det. Crystal Bedolla.
The PGR asked for SBPD’s help in locating key witnesses so they could be re-interviewed, and an arrest warrant for Bravo could be issued in Mexico.
Officials from the PGR notified the SBPD that Bravo had been taken into custody on March 8 in Mexico City, where he remains today.
Duarte said he wasn’t sure exactly how PGR officials found Bravo.
“Maybe he applied for some sort of identification or other process that the government was privy to,” he said. “The specifics we don’t know.”
Duarte was alerted that the PGR had a specific location on Bravo, and that he was later arrested.
According to Mexican law, Mexican citizens who commit crimes in foreign territories must be prosecuted in Mexico, so Bravo will go before a judge and serve any time in that country.
Sanchez said he spoke with Santos-Sierra’s parents, who were shocked the case was still a priority with the department after all this time, and grateful that Bravo had been found.
The case sends a message, Sanchez said, that “we’re going to pull no punches and spare no resource to put away people who commit murder in our community.”