West Jordan » Magda Aleman was living “the American Dream.”
After emigrating from Mexico to the United States as a young woman, Aleman married a man she had known since they both were children. The couple found success in the restaurant business, eventually owning a food supply company and more than a dozen Rancherito’s Mexican restaurants around the Salt Lake Valley.
They bought a nice house in a quiet Sandy neighborhood because it was a safe place for their children to play.
That’s what her three children were doing the night Magda Aleman was killed.
On Tuesday, a jury convicted the man police and prosecutors say broke into the Aleman’s home, beat her with the butt of a handgun and then shot her once in the forehead at point-blank range.
“Today is a day of reckoning,” an emotional Salt Lake County prosecutor Rob Neill told jurors Tuesday morning in 3rd District Court.
Cody Alan Reece, 32, sat with his defense attorneys at a table and shook his head at times as the prosecutor gave closing arguments after seven days of testimony.
After four and a half hours of deliberation a jury convicted Reece on all of the charges against him, including aggravated murder and aggravated burglary. He faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 10 before Judge Bruce Lubeck.
Reece was arrested for breaking into a different Sandy home the night Israel Aleman-Gomes found his wife covered in blood, dead on the love seat in their front room. The woman’s skull was fractured and she was missing some teeth.
As he sat in the Salt Lake County jail on suspicion of burglary — and before he was charged with murder — Reece expressed frustration with his friends and family, telling them how “important it was” to bail him out, according to recorded phone calls played in court.
In one phone call, he berated his mother for failing to do so.
“I’m going to get the death penalty!” he shouted. “You’re not going to see me for the rest of your life!”
In another call, he said that a detective had started asking questions about a gun. When his mother said she had picked up his jewelry — two rings, a chain and an earring — from the jail, Reece asked about a T-shirt. There was none, she said.
“I gotta get out, Mom,” he said. “I gotta get out. I gotta get out.”
Investigators months later matched blood stains on Reece’s shirt to Aleman’s blood, prosecutors said. That corroborated stories from one of Reece’s friends and his one-time cellmate, who said Reece had told them about a burglary and a shooting involving a woman, Neill said.
But Reece’s defense attorneys said those witnesses were unreliable — a meth addict and a “professional” informant.
Reece was simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” his attorneys said.
Defense attorney Lisa Remal said Reece had been drinking, taking Xanax and using methamphetamine and Oxycontin “all day long,” for some time leading up to the night of July 13, 2010.
The drugs and alcohol “caused him to think and feel and react differently to things” than others would, Remal said.
Reece took the stand this week and testified that he was in the neighborhood, looking for mail to steal, when he came upon the Aleman’s home. The man heard a gunshot, looked in Aleman’s back window and saw the woman dead from what he believed to be a suicide, Remal said.
Reece said he does not remember what happened but that he found himself inside the home, standing over Aleman’s body and that he noticed he had something on his hand — apparently Aleman’s blood — which he wiped on his shirt.
That’s when Reece said he saw a man with a gun. Reece ran from the house and then sped away through Sandy, causing a car crash and then entering several more homes, Remal said.
“He was reacting, he was not thinking,” she said.
Reece was anxious to get out of jail and did not speak to police about what he saw, Remal told jurors, because he noticed a tattoo on the man and believed he was part of a gang.
Remal said there were others who were more likely Aleman’s killer. The woman and her husband, who police first investigated as a possible suspect, had been fighting heavily the night before, possibly about an IRS debt and the man’s gambling on horse races, Remal said.
Prosecutors called Reece’s story an implausible tale that has changed over time. Neill called Aleman a cheerful woman, who was trying to improve her English and taking business classes to help with her husband’s businesses.