Murder of Kodiak man divides family

Posted: Monday, July 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- When Carlos Medina was an up-and-coming businessman in Kodiak's Filipino community, one of his smaller ventures was a food booth at the annual crab festival selling barbecued pork on a stick. He called the food stand Mommy's Heart, after his departed mother, who had raised Carlos and 11 other children back in the Philippines.

Medina found success as a restaurant owner and political leader in Kodiak, but he never forgot his family. He sent money home to Cavite province and sponsored a brother and sister on their own journeys to America.

Then, on a rainy night in 1993, Medina didn't come home. His body, bruised and beaten was found two days later on Kodiak's Pillar Mountain.

Today, Mommy's Heart survives as a Kodiak barbecue restaurant run by one of Medina's sisters. But the Medina family is being torn apart.

Younger brother Rolando, whom Carlos put through school and brought to Alaska, was jailed in Anchorage last month on charges that he killed his brother nine years ago and then stole insurance money from Carlos' widow.

The key evidence against Rolando was gathered by another brother, Jerry, who has called Rolando ''a master of disguise, a master of intrigue.'' Rolando, who had to be extradited from the Philippines, has said Jerry framed him for the murder. He has pleaded not guilty.

In Kodiak's Filipino community, where Carlos Medina was a symbol of immigrant success, the trial of Rolando Medina, scheduled for September, is awaited more with apprehension than relief.

''My personal feeling is that I can't believe he'd do such a thing. He's such a nice guy,'' said Bernie Ballao, a longtime community leader and close friend of Carlos'. ''A lot of us here in Kodiak feel the same way.''

Medina, 36, seemed to be living the American immigrant's dream. He had worked his way up from the cannery line. After 10 years in Alaska, he held a good job at the electric utility, owned the restaurant and had just signed the mortgage papers on a big house. He was admired for helping elderly people with medical bills and sponsoring a Filipino basketball team. He was also a civic leader, speaking to the City Council on behalf of immigrant seafood workers.

Police were able to generate few leads in the murder case. They complained that the Filipino community seemed closed-off to investigators. One year after the murder, they had received only three Crime Stoppers tips, none particularly helpful.

Filipino community leaders raised questions about the police effort. They wondered aloud whether a prominent white businessman's murder would go unsolved for so long. So did Carlos Medina's family.

''We cannot go on with our lives without knowing more,'' soft-spoken Rolando told a newspaper reporter in 1994.

The Asia House was sold, and Rolando drifted back to the Philippines. But another brother, Jerry Medina, who lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, kept the heat on the investigation. He traveled to Alaska five times to meet with police, raise a $20,000 reward and urge reporters to keep the story in the news.

By 1997, Jerry Medina was getting word that his brother Rolando was living well back in the Philippines. Rolando was telling relatives he'd made a lot of money in Alaska, which wasn't true, Jerry said. Carlos began to appear in Jerry's dreams, demanding that he confront Rolando, Jerry said.

Finally he flew to the Philippines. Rolando was away, and Jerry let himself into the family home. He reported finding a marble bathtub, big color television, three VCRs, 800 CDs and piles of new clothes. He also reported finding a box with Carlos' credit cards and identification, missing from his briefcase since the murder. He said the box contained canceled checks as well written out of an account where Carlos' life insurance money had gone.

Jerry Medina sent the evidence to Kodiak Police Chief John Palmer.

Palmer flew to the Philippines and met with Rolando. On his return, Palmer appeared before a Kodiak grand jury, which charged Rolando with second-degree murder in April 1998.

Rolando was also charged with first-degree theft for allegedly taking $258,000 in insurance money from Carlos' widow and children.

Rolando was extradited and picked up by the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation in Cavite province on May 17.

Rolando Medina, 37, is being held in the Anchorage Jail on $500,000 bail. His lawyer, Kodiak public defender Allan Thielen, said he has no comment other than that he plans to look closely at whether to move the trial away from Kodiak because of local publicity.

In Kodiak's Filipino community, however, the publicity has not convinced everyone that Rolando is guilty, said Ben Achas, president of the Filipino-American Association of Kodiak.

''We don't know yet. We're still in doubt about this,'' Achas said.

Other people say that evidence linking Rolando to the insurance money does not necessarily mean he murdered Carlos.

Felicidad Tussey, the Medina sister who now runs Mommy's Heart, says she sat up with Rolando at the Asia House the night of the murder, waiting for Carlos to show up.

''He did not kill my brother,'' she said last week.

After their mother's death, Felicidad raised the younger Medina children, including Rolando, the baby of the family. She still weeps at the memory of Carlos but said she hates to get in the middle of the murder investigation that has split Rolando and Jerry and torn their tight-knit family.

''I tell them, 'You are both my brothers,' '' she said.

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