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Alleged killer was out on day pass

Teen in S. End case faced gun charge

Alex Sierra’s loved ones held each other yesterday after the arraignment of Ricardo Arias, the teen accused of killing him. Alex Sierra’s loved ones held each other yesterday after the arraignment of Ricardo Arias, the teen accused of killing him. (Angela Rowlings/Pool)
By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / September 7, 2011

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Ricardo Arias, released for the day from juvenile custody, was supposed to be at a Red Sox game Saturday evening.

Instead, prosecutors say that the 17-year-old from Roslindale, who was being held for gun possession, left the game early to stalk the South End. There, he and a friend asked several people whether they lived in Villa Victoria, the low-income housing complex associated with a rival gang.

Everyone said no - except for Alex Sierra, 18, who had no ties to gangs and apparently no reason to suspect the sinister motives behind the question. Arias pulled out a gun and fatally shot Sierra, prosecutors said.

“His only wrong step, if you can call it that, was that he answered ‘yes,’ ’’ Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Amy Galatis said.

Yesterday, Arias stood in Boston Municipal Court, where he pleaded not guilty to killing Sierra, who grew up in Villa Victoria and planned to become a medical technician.

This type of violence has become commonplace in certain parts of Boston, where young men and even children have been slain simply because they lived or hung out in areas connected to gang conflicts. Police believe Sierra’s killing was motivated by a long-running feud between gangs in Villa Victoria and Mission Hill.

Last year, 14-year-old honor student Jaewon Martin was killed in the basketball court near Heath Street in Jamaica Plain after gang members from Roxbury decided to shoot at anyone in their rival territory.

In 2007, 18-year-old Cedirick Steele, who worked for Meals on Wheels, was fatally shot in Roxbury for the same reason.

Later that year, Steven Odom, the 13-year-old son of a preacher, was walking to his Dorchester home when he was fatally shot by a man police said was targeting gang rivals.

“Once again, an innocent child has been gunned down amid the madness of a gang feud he had no part in,’’ Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said in a statement about Sierra. “Neither he nor his family did anything to deserve this fate. Now his name joins the terrible litany of precious young lives lost to mindless violence.’’

The killing also raised questions about why Arias was given a one-day pass. He had been placed in custody of the Department of Youth Services for a December 2010 gun possession charge, prosecutors said.

“We will absolutely be doing an internal investigation,’’ Commissioner Jane Tewksbury of the DYS said in a telephone interview. “We will do a review about every step that was taken, before, during, and after the pass.’’

Tewksbury declined to comment on Arias’s case specifically but said that juveniles are often given passes from custody that range from two hours to an entire weekend.

Passes are considered part of the process of releasing youths as they age out of the juvenile justice system. In some cases, youths may wear a monitoring device while they are away. Arias was not wearing a device at the time of his arrest, police said.

Youths who do well during a series of supervised outings eventually will be able to go home or attend a recreational activity unsupervised.

Corrections specialists urge the use of such a graduated reentry process, Tewksbury said. “People do not go from supervised passes to unsupervised passes if there is any incident or issue,’’ he added.

Juvenile justice advocates said they could not recall a case where a youth committed a violent crime during a pass. Deputy Commissioner Edward Dolan said the worst cases typically are youths who returned late or were not where they were supposed to be.

“It’s a tragedy, but it’s the exception,’’ said Lisa Thurau, the executive director of Strategies for Youth, which examines juvenile justice issues.

Police arrested Arias the night of the shooting, which occurred on Tremont Street, after witnesses described the gunman and Arias’s friend, a 16-year-old who was not identified because he is a juvenile. Witnesses also described a gold-colored van in which the suspects fled.

The youth, who police said tossed the gun in a dumpster, was held on $250,000 cash bail yesterday on charges of acting as an accessory after the fact and gun possession.

Police found the gun and matched it to three shell casings recovered from the shooting scene, Galatis said.

For relatives of Sierra, the circumstances that allowed his suspected killer to be out on the streets seemed secondary to their tremendous loss.

“To me, personally, it just underlined how cold-blooded [the killing] was,’’ said David Price, Sierra’s uncle, who sat in court yesterday. “Nothing could have made it worse.’’

Sierra’s parents raised him in Villa Victoria, a Tremont Street development they saw as an affordable place to live that would give them more financial freedom to pursue their dreams.

Sierra’s parents opened a travel agency and a moving company, saw an older daughter graduate from college, and had high hopes for their son, who was smart, ambitious, and committed to helping his neighborhood, Price said.

He had taken part in an MIT program meant to connect city teens with science and technology and was a peer leader at the Cacique Youth Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that works with low-income youths in the South End.

“He was really, really a good kid,’’ Price said. “He was everything you want a young man to be.’’

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @globemcramer.