The prosecution rested their case this week against two Turlock men standing accused of killing an aspiring rapper at a memorial barbecue, by presenting testimony to the two men’s extensive gang history and the suspected motive behind the murder.
Raymond “Raymo” Gutierrez, 31, and Alvaro “Tito” Saldana, 26, are facing first-degree murder charges with gang enhancements in the death of 26-year-old Roger Villanueva on May 25, 2008.
Villanueva was shot to death in the backyard of an Angelus Street home during a memorial barbecue to Moses Rodriguez, who was murdered in Turlock in 2006.
The final witness called by Stanislaus County Deputy District Attorney Thomas Brennan was Froilan Mariscal, an investigator for the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office, who testified about the two defendants’ history with the Norteno street gang and their possible motives for the fatal shooting.According to the prosecution, the two men were angry with Villanueva because he came to the aid of another man at a wedding reception in Hilmar. That man, identified by the prosecution as Miguel Perez, was considered a “degenerate”by the gang, in part because he sang a rap song with lyrics that insulted the wife of a Norteno gang member insinuating she was unfaithful while her husband was in prison.
The prosecution contends this rap song incited a fight that turned into a melee of wedding guests and attendants, including the victim and the two accused.
During the melee Villanueva came to the aid of Perez and during the process struck Saldana, a taboo act of violence among the gang.
“Fighting another gang member is considered a direct act of treason in the gang,” Mariscal said during his testimony.
The prosecution claims that this encounter created bad feelings between the men and that Gutierrez and Saldana went to the barbecue with the specific purpose of exacting revenge on Villanueva.
Mariscal testified that because Saldana was disrespected by Villanueva in front of a large crowd, he had to respond in kind.
“They have to respond with violence to prove themselves and regain their status as a person to fear,” Mariscal said.
During cross-examination of Mariscal, both defense attorneys — Frank Carson and Gary Smith — suggested that if the feelings of disrespect were the impetus for the shooting, then the groom at the disrupted wedding reception would have just as much of a motive to shoot Villanueva as the two defendants.
The gang enhancements against the two defendants states that the killing was done to benefit the gang. Mariscal testified that the killing of Villanueva didn’t have prior approval from the gang, but evidence suggests the two men were cleared by the gang of the killing. The prosecution claims this is because the gang felt the shooting was justified because of Villanueva’s defense of a “degenerate.”
Smith posed another hypothesis for the gang clearing Gutierrez and Saldana, stating the gang didn’t believe they were responsible for the shooting.
“Yes, that’s possible,” Mariscal said.
Both defense attorneys questioned Mariscal at length about the likelihood of the two defendants not facing any repercussions for the “red on red violence” they are accused of committing, because it’s a violation of the gangs rules, suggesting they didn’t commit the shooting because the gang hasn’t retaliated against them.
Mariscal countered that the gang’s “laws” are like those in society, in that they are “steadfast, but not always enforced,” he said.
After the prosecution rested their case, Carson made a motion that Smith joined, asking that all the charges against the two men be dropped because the district attorney’s office had not proven their case, but Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff denied the motion.
Carson’s first two witnesses were Turlock police detectives who conducted the investigation following the shooting. His questions have all centered on the course of the investigation, suggesting investigators were led off the track of the real killer through false information supplied by some of the witnesses present at the barbecue.
A security risk was raised prior to Wednesday’s testimony. Before the jury entered the courtroom, Brennan said a 5½-inch shank made of metal was found during a search of Gutierrez’s cell that he shares with another inmate.
The judge ordered that the two men must sit a chair’s width apart from one another and keep their hands visible at all times.
Two deputies have been in the courtroom at all times during the proceedings. Zeff said he would consider leaving the defendants shackled if there were any other security issues.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday.
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