On March 29, 2004, the body of Eugene Gorenman, a 26-year-old Russian immigrant, was found on a walking path near a gun battery at San Francisco’s Fort Funston National Park. He had been robbed and shot in the head.
The victim’s silver Mustang had been abandoned in the Bayview neighborhood. And police determined that his credit card was being used at gas stations, a cell phone store, and a nail salon.
The purchases sparked a wide-ranging investigation that stretched over the entire Bay Area, filling dozens of notebooks and requiring hundreds of interviews. Taking two years to complete, it eventually involved the U.S. National Park Service, the South San Francisco police, and the FBI, who speculated that the execution-style killing was the work of the Russian Mafia.
But the real culprits turned out to be considerably less glamorous than that. They were a trio of young women, all from broken families and drawn close to one another by their common struggle to survive and support a lifestyle marked by drug use. One was white, one was Latina and the other was multi-facial. They shared everything. And on that fateful night, they all became responsible for the death of someone they hardly knew.
As they sat in court, the three could not have been less friendly. They stared coldly at one another.
It was time for them to be sentenced and sent to state prison, but before that, the victim’s parents had something they wanted to say.
Eugene Gorenman had grown up in Walnut Creek, graduated from UC Berkeley and worked as a computer engineer with Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
“For a mere 20 dollars he was murdered without the slightest regard for his life, promise of future, his family and friends,” they had written in a statement read aloud by Police Inspector Holly Pera.
“The killers not only took away our son, but they destroyed our entire family,” Because had been their only male child, the family name would end with him. Their poignant words alternately eulogized the fallen heir and excoriated the defendants, to whom it referred as “vicious animals” and “human filth.”
“They belong in hell,” Pera read. “They don’t deserve any pity regardless of their age or socioeconomic status.” In closing, the parents told the girls to “remember that as long as you live, God will punish you wherever you are.”
Kimberly Gutierrez, 16, who had pulled the trigger, according to a statement made by one of the others, was charged as an adult with murder and robbery but pleaded guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter and personal use of a firearm in the commission of the crime. Under the plea agreement, she received a sentence of 11 years in prison for the manslaughter and a consecutive 10 years for use of the gun.
Felicia Mehrara, also 16 at the time of the killing, was also charged as an adult. She was sentenced to eight years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
And Jillian McIlvenna, three years older, was given 11 years. Police homicide investigators had traced the use of one of Gorenman’s credit cards to her.
Gutierrez later contested her voluntary manslaughter conviction and 21-year sentence, contending that she hadn’t made the guilty plea knowingly because her trial lawyer was incompetent. But a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal rejected that argument.