After 12 years and eight months on the run in Mexico, a man suspected in the brutal slaying of a one-time Ukiah neighbor could find himself facing the death penalty now that he's in the hands of Mendocino County authorities.
Charges lodged Friday against Jerred Raymond Hernandez, 32, include first-degree murder with special circumstances that could mean a death sentence or life imprisonment without possibility of parole if he's convicted.
Hernandez's arrest and pending prosecution bring to a close one of the lengthiest and most complex manhunts for Ukiah police, Chief Chris Dewey said.
The arrest also brings some closure to the family of Michael Williamson, who was killed in his parents' home, said father Norman Williamson, 89.
"We're a close, happy family and you can imagine what this does for us to have this resolved," the elder Williamson said.
Just this week, the family gathered at their Carolyn Drive house to celebrate the joint birthdays of Michael, who would have turned 57, and his younger brother Dan, as they do most years, Norman Williamson said.
But this year, with Hernandez in custody, the family celebrated with a new sense of relief they have not felt since Michael Williamson was killed Aug. 2, 2000.
"We learned to live with our lives. Our faith supported us through it, but it is nice to have it resolved," Williamson said.
Firefighters found Williamson bludgeoned to death in the home, which had also been burglarized, police said. The suspect apparently set a small fire, which mainly caused smoke damage.
Hernandez, who was 19 at the time and living around the corner, was quickly identified as a suspect through physical evidence and several statements from family members and acquaintances, Detective Rick Pintane said.
Police said Hernandez was among several addicts whom Williamson, a recovering drug user, had been mentoring.
But Hernandez was gone, and his father later told police he visited an uncle in Ensenada, Mexico, according to a federal warrant for his arrest filed in September 2000.
That is where Mexican police found him Sunday, after an adulthood spent on the run.
But in the early days of the investigation, police were following tips that Hernandez could also be in Humboldt County, Trinity County or Southern California.
The investigation eventually led police to the East Coast as well as Mexico and Canada, said Pintane, who was part of the original investigation team and took over the case in 2010.
"You have to keep opening doors to get the right door," Pintane said.
<NO1><NO>A television show, "America's Most Wanted," featured the search for Hernandez in February 2012. Several tips prompted by the show went nowhere, Pintane said.
Then, about a month ago, Ukiah police received their first solid sign of Hernandez's whereabouts: photographs as well as "communications," which Pintane wouldn't describe further but said involved technology and resources not available a decade ago.
They alerted the FBI, and federal agents coordinated with Mexican police on his apprehension Sunday.
Hernandez was charged Friday in Mendocino County Court with first-degree murder with special circumstances for commission of the crime in the course or a robbery, murder in the course of a burglary, murder while engaged in an arson, as well as independent charges of first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and arson, with a special allegation for use of an accelerant.