Admitted SF murderer lived a double life as an advocate for justice reform

It was a cool, overcast midnight in 2019 when 21-year-old Fernando Madrigal drove through the Mission District with other Norteños gang members looking for rivals.

They had a tip that a teenager walking through the neighborhood was affiliated with the Army Street Gang, a main antagonist of the Norteños. They found him at 24th and Capp streets. 15-year-old Day’Von Hann wasn’t in the Army Street gang—or any gang. It didn’t matter.

Norteños believed their tipster. So Madrigal shot the teenager to death with an AR-15 assault rifle, according to court documents.

Three weeks later, Madrigal stood at a rally on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, calling out against gun violence and calling for reforms at the youth hall. Despite his involvement with the Norteños, Madrigal also lent his time and voice to several non-profit organizations, calling for reforms to the juvenile justice system even while in a violent gang.

At one point during the demonstration, he embraced a woman named Sha’ray Johnson. She was there because she had lost her 15-year-old son to gun violence just weeks earlier.

Johnson had no idea at the time that the man she hugged was her son Day’Von’s killer.

Now, almost four years later, Madrigal sits in a prison cell awaiting sentencing for the murder. He pleaded guilty to murdering Hann and will probably be behind bars until he is middle-aged. He says he is filled with remorse.

Johnson, meanwhile, left San Francisco to protect her remaining children from the kind of violence Day’Von claimed. The passage of time has been of little comfort to her.

“I’m still breathing. I’m just really ‘existing,’ to be honest,” she said. “I miss him. I miss his face. I miss his voice. … My other children deserve to be happy and have a fair chance in life. So letting them down is not an option.”

Incorporated by the dark side of a dangerous double life, Madrigal has advice for anyone who would listen: Don’t be like him, or at least the worst part of him.

He was arrested by the FBI a year after the murder on federal assault charges in August 2020, and has been in Santa Rita Prison in Dublin since then. In late February, Madrigal pleaded guilty to participating in the murders of Day’Von and another unnamed man, and to participating in Norteño gang enterprises including the sale of drugs and weapons. He faces a June 29 sentencing that would likely land him at least 30 years in federal prison.

He said he would take it all back if he could.

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“Living like that, the way I did, only leads to two things: death or prison,” he said in a phone call from his prison cell.

Growing up poor in the Mission and drawn into gang life as a young teenager, he said he struggled unsuccessfully to leave the community he fell into, and his involvement only deepened as he got older. He landed in San Francisco’s youth hall several times. The detentions catalyzed his advocacy of anti-violence and criminal justice reform.

Joining community calls to close the juvenile justice center in favor of other approaches that emphasize counseling, Madrigal began attending youth empowerment conferences and speaking for justice reform.

Court documents cite him as speaking at a meeting about the future of the youth hall in April 2019 — three months before Day’Von’s murder. “Do youth halls help me at all? No, and it doesn’t help anyone, he said. “I deal with several young people with the work I do and it doesn’t help anyone, everyone says the same thing.”

Madrigal told The Chronicle that community groups tried to help him as a child and that his involvement in them was sincere. But they weren’t enough to pull him from the “society” he grew up in, where his parents struggled financially in gang territory and his father abandoned the family when Madrigal was 10.

Community groups involved in Madrigal’s life, including Communities in Harmony Advocating for Learning and Kids and Mission Neighborhood Centers, either declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries about Madrigal.

“Everything around me in my community shaped me into who I was,” Madrigal said. “It’s an environmental thing – where there are drugs involved, and violence, it becomes an everyday thing.”

Taking a clean break from the environment would have helped him, he said. But he could never make it.

“My advice is that it’s going to be hard to break the cycle,” he said. “The hardest battle you have is within yourself, internally. The rush (of gang activities) can be a real thing for you at the time, but the negative results are terrible.”

Madrigal said he is preparing a statement he plans to read during sentencing, addressed directly to the families of his victims. He hopes that it will express the true depth of his remorse. He said he cannot comment on that or other key details of his case — including whether he knew Johnson was his victim’s mother when he hugged her — while his sentencing is pending.

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“I don’t deny the reason I’m incarcerated,” he said. “I put myself in this situation. I deserve everything that has happened to me.”


Day’Von, the teenager Madrigal admitted to shooting in his plea, was also involved in youth activism — volunteering with the United Playaz violence-prevention nonprofit. United Playaz organizers called Day’Von “a wonderful kid” but said his death was so painful that they did not want to comment further.

Set to enter 10th grade at Lincoln High School in the fall of 2019, Day’Von was preparing for college, with dreams of playing professional baseball or starting a clothing line.

His mother worked at a homeless shelter and her husband worked in auto repair, barely getting by in the wildly expensive city, but had high hopes for their son with the bright smile. The night the bullets found Day’Von, he was out getting food — an act so innocent, random, that Johnson still struggles to understand how it led to the boy’s life being frozen forever as a 15-year-old.

“It seems like my son was a victim of a war we’re not in,” she said. “There was a great deal of negligence on someone’s part for (Madrigal and the other gang members) to be able to cause all this pain, and I need answers.”

Memories help her deal with the pain.

“Day’Von was and always will be my soulmate,” she said. “The light he had in him, which made him so accessible with his bubbly personality – that would immediately warm your heart, make you understand and appreciate.”

In the years since her son’s death, Johnson has helped set up a college fund in Day’Von’s name at United Playaz, and on Thanksgivings, she and other volunteers serve food to people in need in memory of her son. It’s something Day’Von used to do.


City manager Hillary Ronen helped Johnson and her family find housing outside the city after the murder. And nearly two months after Day’Von’s murder, she also wrote a letter to a judge on Madrigal’s behalf in his petition to get off probation early for a carjacking conviction. At the time, investigators were still nearly a year away from arresting him in Day’Von’s murder.

Community nonprofit leaders told Ronen about Madrigal’s anti-violence efforts, saying he was trying to better himself after his stints at the youth hall, the carjacking and being shot so many times that he lost his left eye. Ronen said she was trying to help their efforts to move him from gang territory.

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Ronen was at the rally where Madrigal hugged Day’Von’s mother. She said she had “no idea” about the depth of Madrigal’s gang involvement.

“When Day’Von was murdered I got to know his mother, who is an angel of a person,” Ronen said. “And Day’Von was such a sweetheart — not in gangs at all, good in school, just a really good kid. He was his mother’s beautiful child.”

She said she was horrified to learn the details of Day’Von’s killing after Madrigal’s arrest and broke down in sobs as she talked about writing her letter about his probation.

“I want to apologize to Sha’ray Johnson for writing that letter and for all the pain she has had to suffer,” Ronen said through tears.

She said the horrific confluence of events won’t stop her from advocating for youth in need. But she added that when she does that, she has to “know the person inside and out, all about their past and details.”


Madrigal said he plans to use his prison time to take college courses in criminal justice and psychology and write about his experiences, and is already studying law. Maybe after he does his time, he said, he could start a nonprofit to help troubled youth.

“I’m looking forward to improving myself, changing my way of thinking and humbling myself,” he said.

Mike Pritchard, a former San Francisco youth hall counselor and longtime educator who helps youth overcome challenges, said Madrigal’s ambition is not unique. Pritchard has helped paroled gangsters and murderers start youth programs and run marathons. Madrigal’s admission of guilt is a crucial first step, he said.

“Karma has your address,” Pritchard said. “The angels know where you live and they will circle until they have your specific location and then they will serve justice.

“What I tell kids like him is that to kill another human being – you’ll remember that every day of your life. If you’re wise, you’ll stay in prison what you couldn’t stay in society.

“I never stop believing in redemption.”

Chronicle staff writer Bob Egelko contributed to this report.

Reach Kevin Fagan: [email protected]; Twitter: @KevinChron

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