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Crime & Courts

Dreams led to clues in 1993 slaying

  • Author: Tom Kizzia
  • Updated: April 25
  • Published June 14, 1998

Editor's note: This story was originally published June 14, 1998.

The mysterious death of Carlos Medina on a night of howling rain five years ago haunted everyone in Kodiak. But no one more than Jerry Medina, whose slain brother kept coming to him in his dreams.

It haunted the thriving Filipino community in Kodiak, where Carlos Medina was a successful young businessman and bright political force. The killing left doubts hovering around Medina's hard-won immigrant success and raised unwelcome questions in the community about whether Kodiak's Filipinos were telling police all they knew — and whether the police cared.

"We start to wonder, if it could have been white folks that died, would they get (a suspect) right away?" said Bernie Ballao, a friend of Medina and the only Filipino city councilman at the time of his death.

It haunted Kodiak Police Chief John Palmer, who was an investigator when Medina's bludgeoned body was found atop Pillar Mountain in 1993. It was the one case Palmer continued to investigate personally after he was named chief.

"It seems no matter how many homicides you solve, you get remembered for the ones you don't, " Palmer said. "I didn't want to be remembered for this one."

It haunted Carlos Medina's widow and three small children, who turned to her husband's large, close-knit family when they could get few answers from police. They grew especially close to his younger brother Rolando, a recent immigrant who took over managing Carlos' restaurant.

"Carlos' death stunned and still saddens our family, " Rolando wrote Gov. Wally Hickel in 1993, seeking state intervention. "We would appreciate any help you can supply toward expediting the criminal investigation and dispensing justice for my brother, so our anguished family may rest in peace and go on with our lives."

But it especially haunted brother Jerry Medina, who made five trips to Kodiak from his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to push the stalled investigation and raise money for a reward — because an angry Carlos kept appearing in his dreams demanding justice.

Finally, Jerry said, Carlos appeared for three consecutive nights and pointed him toward crucial evidence that would break the case open.

On Thursday, after considering that evidence, a Kodiak grand jury issued an indictment on a charge of second-degree murder against Rolando, the younger brother of Jerry and Carlos.

Rolando Medina, who has returned to the Philippines, will face an extradition proceeding in an attempt to bring him back for trial, Palmer said. Extradition could be difficult, law enforcement officials said.

News of the murder charge spread through Kodiak's large Filipino community on Friday as area residents celebrated the 100th anniversary of Philippine Independence Day.

"It shocks me. Even if I ran out of people to suspect, I would never suspect him, " said Ballao, who had been the first to call police the day of Carlos' disappearance.

For Jerry Medina, the indictment of his 33-year-old brother was bittersweet. It has divided the large family, many of whom still live in the Philippines, he said. In fact, he hesitated for three months before making photocopies of the evidence and putting them in a Federal Express envelope to Chief Palmer.

"Rolando is a big-time liar, " Jerry Medina said Friday. "I believed him for years. He is a master of disguise, a master of intrigue."

Carlos Medina was the kind of young civic leader nobody said unkind things about — until his bloodied silver pickup was found on Pillar Mountain Road on May 1, 1993. By the time his badly beaten body was found lying in the alpine tundra, two nights of hard rain had washed his wounds and cleared away physical evidence of a struggle.

Medina had come to Kodiak in 1983 at 26 and started in a fish plant like generations of Filipinos before him. In less than a decade, he owned the Asia House restaurant and karaoke club, had a good job at Kodiak Electric Association and was a leader in Filipino-American service clubs. He sent money home to the islands, helped Filipino teens and elders and spoke on behalf of poor immigrants before the Kodiak City Council.

In the polyglot city of Kodiak, where Filipinos outnumbered Alaska Natives, Medina was a symbol of immigrant success.

He married and started a family and also paid the school fees back home for his brother Rolando, the youngest of his 11 siblings. In 1992, after Rolando's effort to settle in Canada with Jerry turned sour, Carlos brought Rolando to Kodiak. Jerry said Rolando had a problem with drugs and alcohol in Canada but swore to the family he'd turned his life around in Kodiak.

Carlos Medina's killing raised many questions. Where had he gotten the money for a new house? Was he killed by a fishing-season transient? Someone from a secret life? Was it drugs? Medina's friends said he was so anti-drug he'd torn the door off his restaurant's men's room after catching two men smoking pot there. A robbery? His wallet and briefcase were missing. Mud had been smeared in the truck to hide fingerprints. But why would a robber beat a victim to death?

"We cannot go on with our lives without knowing more, " Rolando said in an interview a year after Carlos' death. By then, the restaurant was failing, soon to be sold. Rolando drifted back to the Philippines in 1995.

Palmer said police pursued "five years of false leads, " doing at least something on the case every day. Jerry Medina continued to raise reward money and seek publicity. Meanwhile, word came back from the Philippines that Rolando was living "like a millionaire."

In April 1997, Jerry Medina said, Carlos started appearing night after night in his dreams, demanding that Jerry confront Rolando about his high-flying lifestyle. Finally, Jerry said, he got on a plane and flew to the Philippines, where Rolando was living in the old family home on the island of Luzon now that their parents were dead. Whether by coincidence or because he was warned, Jerry said, Rolando had just flown back to Kodiak.

Instead of turning around, Jerry stayed and searched the house, which he said was "like a shopping store, " equipped with a marble bathtub, big color television, three VCRs, 800 CDs and piles of new clothes.

"It seems like it was my brother Carlos forcing me to look around, " Jerry recalled.

After several days of searching, he found a box containing Carlos' credit cards and identification, missing since the homicide. The box also contained canceled checks — one for $50,000 — apparently written out of an account where Carlos' life insurance money had gone. Carlos' widow and beneficiary, Tita, had received about $100,000 from Rolando, who apparently pocketed the balance of several hundred thousand dollars himself, Jerry said. He told people in the Philippines he'd made a fortune working in Kodiak.

Jerry Medina said he left the Philippines hastily after hearing his life might be in danger. After Rolando returned to the islands, Jerry said, he refused to respond to letters Jerry wrote while trying to decide whether to turn his brother in.

Once Chief Palmer received the checks and credit cards from Jerry, he went to the Philippines to interview Rolando, driving to the Medina home in a bulletproof embassy car with an officer from the Philippine national police. Rolando couldn't account for having his brother's credit cards but seemed "nonchalant" about the prospect of being charged with murder, Palmer said.

"Apparently he felt shielded from anything in the United States as long as he was in the Philippines," Palmer said.

Palmer said his interview with Rolando produced additional evidence linking him to the killing, though he would not be more specific. The Kodiak grand jury charged Rolando Medina with second-degree murder because the fatal beating was more probably an act of rage growing out of an argument with his brother than a premeditated act, Palmer said. Rolando was also charged with first-degree theft for allegedly stealing $258,000 in insurance money from Tita and the children, Palmer said.

The investigation is continuing and other indictments may yet be issued, Palmer said.

The murder charge is a relief to all of Kodiak, not just the Filipinos, because unsolved killings are unsettling in small communities, said Jesse Vizcocho, president of the Filipino-American Association.

"It's a sad case, but we know that in America you are innocent until proven guilty," he said.

The indictment should lift any suspicion about Filipino cooperation, Ballao said.

"It's a wake-up call for the rest of the community that we don't hide anything," he said.

Jerry Medina said he's glad his elderly aunts persuaded him to go ahead and turn in the evidence against his brother.

"I would say my brother Carlos is resting in peace right now, because I don't have any dreams," he said.

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