The fate of a 22-year-old man facing a possible life time spent behind prison walls is now being weighed by 12 strangers.
Luis Manuel Tafolla is charged with attempted murder, assaulting a person with a semiautomatic firearm and participating in a criminal street gang in connection with the April 30, 2007 shooting of Eric Carrillo.
The case was handed over to a Stanislaus County jury Wednesday and deliberations continued through Thursday. The department was out of session Friday and the courthouse will be closed Monday for the Columbus Day holiday.
At the time of the shooting Carrillo was a 17-year-old living with his parents in a neighborhood that is no stranger to gang violence on Turlock’s west side. Carrillo was not a member of the Norteno street gang, though the rivalry between the Nortenos and Surenos would soon count him as a casualty.
Carrillo had been grounded by his father from leaving the house and using the cell phone. But on that night he snuck out of his home with the phone because he wanted to talk to his girlfriend. Carrillo was wearing a red Atlanta Falcons jersey and walking down South Avenue when a white car with four men inside stopped in his path.
Tafolla got out of the car and asked Carrillo if he “banged” and when Carrillo said no, he was shot. The bullet that pierced his face and remains lodged in his neck has left Carrillo paralyzed.
Tafolla is the last of four men to be tried for the shooting. In previous court proceedings Armando Zaragoza pled no contest to being an accessory and Marco Antonio Moreno Robles was found guilty of attempted murder and being an accessory. Ricardo Ordaz has agreed to a plea deal with the district attorney’s office that in exchange for his testimony he would be treated as a juvenile and held in custody until he is 25 years of age. Ordaz is currently 22 years old.
During the trial there has never been any question that Tafolla shot Carrillo. After his arrest, Tafolla admitted to pulling the trigger and his videotaped confession was shown to jurors. The question at issue hinges on whether Tafolla fired the gun with every intention of killing Carrillo or if the shooting was a result of Tafolla being manipulated by another gang member to prove his manliness and loyalty to the gang.
Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Owen, who is prosecuting the case, made the argument to the jury that Tafolla acted with deliberation and premeditation.
“The defendant agreed with Robles, Zaragoza and Ordaz to kill someone,” Owen said in her closing statements. “In their own words, they were going out to ‘smoke a Northerner.’”
There has been some debate during the trial whether Carrillo yelled out the word “scrap” just before the shooting. “Scrap” is used as a derogatory way of describing a Sureno. Tafolla stated in his interview with investigators that he was called a scrap just before the shooting. Carrillo denied yelling it and Ordaz, who was in the car and testified at the trial, did not recall hearing it, but Owen argued that even if it had been yelled at Tafolla, it was no excuse for the shooting.
“Is that word enough to provoke a person to shoot someone in the face?” Owen asked.
The defense declined to put on any witnesses or present any evidence in the trial, but Stanislaus County Public Defender Jenna Jennison argued the prosecution had failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney argued the prosecution’s case was built on the “self-serving” story told by Ordaz.
“You cannot convict a man when the heart of their case is based on the self-serving testimony of Ricardo Ordaz,” Jennison said. “He is the cancer upon which this whole case is built.”
Jennison argued it was Ordaz who had the motive to seek revenge because it was his house that was targeted weeks before in a drive-by shooting and that he used his position in the Sureno gang to manipulate Tafolla into pulling the trigger.
“He was a pawn in Mr. Ordaz’s scheme,” Jennison said of her client.
The defense argued for the jury returning a guilty verdict on a lesser offense of assault.
“This is the crime that fits the facts,” Jennison said.
Deliberations in the case are set to resume Tuesday.