San Diego

San Quentin Inmate Charged with 1987 Murder of 15-Year-Old Dewan Emerson in Valencia Park

An arrest has been made nearly three decades after the murder of a teenager in Valencia Park.

One April evening in 1987, 15-year-old Dewan Emerson told his mother he was stepping outside to speak to someone – a man he said he knew - who had stopped by their home.

That was the last conversation the two ever had.

The following morning, someone stumbled upon what they thought was a mannequin in a flood channel behind Naranja Street. San Diego Police arrived and discovered that it was the body of Emerson. Investigators confirmed that he had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death.

Emerson was a student at Lincoln High School at the time and was involved in the ROTC program. His neighbor and friend Denise Barnes remembers the day officers knocked on her door and told her and her mother what happened.

"He was just like the little brother I never had, you know?” Barnes said. “Sweet kid, I miss him.”

A lot has changed since 1987, including advancements in DNA evidence analysis. SDPD Cold Case Detectives and District Attorney Investigators recently revisited the case and new technology helped them create a suspect DNA profile for Emerson’s killer.

The profile led them to 56-year-old Russell Taylor, a man serving a 25-year sentence at San Quentin State Prison for a separate crime.

SDPD officers came knocking on Barnes’s door once again a couple of months ago, this time telling her and her mother that Taylor had been arrested. He was charged for the crime last week.

“That made me feel good,” Barnes said. “That boy deserved to live. He was the sweetest, he stayed in school, whatever was going on in his household he tried to stay away from it.”

Investigators still hold suspicion that there may have been a second victim that night in Valencia Park.

Neighbors reported to police that they saw another boy running along the 5100 block of nearby Groveland Street. They say the boy mentioned that he was being chased.

Witnesses described him as a “chubby” black boy, 17 to 18 years old, about 6 feet tall, weighing about 160 pounds and wearing blue sweats and a white t-shirt that was torn along the left side.

SDPD is asking for the public’s help in identifying the boy, and are urging anyone with any other information to come forward.

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