NEWARK -- Three reputed gang members, including a Fremont man already in custody on charges he tried to hang his girlfriend from a tree, were charged Wednesday in connection with the 2010 fatal stabbing of a popular Newark high school football player.
Daniela Guzman, 19, and her stepbrother, Rafael Tovar, 32, both of Newark, along with Daniel Howard, 31, of Fremont, were arrested Monday in connection with the slaying of 17-year-old Justice Afoa, said Newark Police spokesman Mike Carroll.
Afoa was brutally stabbed to death on Dec. 15, 2010, on Cedar Boulevard at Birch Street about a quarter-mile from Newark Memorial High School.
Court documents released Wednesday revealed Tovar and Howard hid behind a wall, waited for Afoa to walk by, then jumped out and confronted him. Afoa ran, but Tovar caught up and stabbed him five times with a kitchen knife. Howard also reportedly stabbed Afoa about five times with an unidentified weapon.
Prosecutors charged Guzman, Tovar and Howard with murder and conspiracy to commit murder among other charges, including committing a crime to benefit a gang, according to court papers signed by Deputy District Attorney Elgin D. Lowe. Police said the December attack was in retaliation for an October fist fight between Afoa and Tovar.
A probable cause affidavit states the trio are documented Norteno gang members and that text messages from their cell phones revealed that Tovar and an additional gang member
"Among the 98 messages I specifically noted 10 references to stab/kill/dead/violence, 14 references to the beating of the arrestee (Tovar), nine references to the victim by name...and six references to gangs/affiliation," a detective wrote in the affidavit.
Prior to their arrests, Carroll said that two of the suspects confessed to their role in the crime. He would not say which suspects admitted their role in the killing but did say they identified Afoa as their intended target.
Guzman was arrested at the Newark Police station following questioning about the killing. Both Tovar and Howard were already in custody on unrelated charges when police arrested them, Carroll said. At the time, Howard was behind bars on an attempted murder charge after police say he tried to hang his girlfriend from a tree at a Fremont home in the 41500 block of Beatrice Street on Nov. 25.
All three suspects were behind bars without bail Wednesday, according to the Santa Rita Jail website.
Newark police detectives have worked "tirelessly" on the case for two years, Carroll said Wednesday. "They have written numerous search warrants, conducted hundreds of interviews and have been working with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office in an effort to arrest those people responsible for the death of Justice Afoa."
Afoa was a sports fan who rooted for the 49ers, Giants and Warriors, and excelled in track and field when he attended Carlmont High School in Belmont for several years.
Afoa and his family, including his mother and five siblings, moved from East Palo Alto to Newark in 2009, and that year Afoa was named a second-team all-Mission Valley Athletic League defensive lineman for Newark Memorial High's football team, his brother Tima Afoa said.
But he focused too much on football instead of his studies, and he switched to Bridgepoint Continuation High School in the fall, his brother previously told the Bay Area News Group.
Afoa was working to improve his grades so that he could rejoin Newark Memorial and graduate in the spring with his classmates.
But a party he attended in early December took him off that path, and it may have led to his slaying, Tima Afoa said.
At the party, Afoa protected a female former classmate who had been threatened by two young males, he said.
"Justice wouldn't cause a problem for nothing, but he was the type of guy who would stand up for what was right. He told me that after that (party), he wasn't going to go out anymore."
Several days later, he was walking along Cedar Boulevard after school when he was stabbed to death.
Authorities pronounced him dead at the scene.
Rich Swift, his former football coach at Newark Memorial High, said he drives by his former player's home every day on his way from work.
"There's never a time I don't think of him as I go by," said Swift who teaches Algebra at the school where he is the athletic director. "I'm glad for the family that they no longer have this lingering over them, but I'm sad that a family had to go through this. I find no solace in this. That this kid's not gonna be here for Christmas or will never have a grandchild at the table with his mom. Another life lost. It's all just sad."
Staff writer Chris DeBenedetti contributed to this report. Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469. Follow her at Twitter.com/nataliealund.