The last memory Eric Carrillo has of April 30, 2007, is of staring up at the night sky and hearing tires squeal away in the distance.
Carrillo, who was 17 years old at the time, knew that just moments before he had been talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone as he walked along South Avenue in Turlock. He remembers a car pulling up in front of him and a man asking what gang he claimed and him telling the man he wasn’t with a gang. And he remembers the sound of the gunshots.
What Carrillo didn’t know at the time was that one of those shots had sent a bullet into his neck, striking his spinal cord. As he lay there on the sidewalk in a puddle of his own blood, Carrillo had no idea that he had been targeted for a gang shooting simply because he was wearing a red jersey.
More than five years later Carrillo, who was left paralyzed from the neck down because of the shooting, is getting his chance to confront the man that prosecutors say pulled the trigger that night as the trial for Luis Manuel Tafolla gets underway in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Tafolla, who was 18 years old at the time of the shooting, is facing charges of attempted murder, assaulting a person with a semiautomatic firearm and participating in a criminal street gang. If convicted on the charges Tafolla is facing a possible life sentence.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office says Tafolla targeted Carrillo because he was wearing a red Atlanta Falcons jersey and Tafolla, who was a Sureno, was looking to exact some revenge for a drive-by shooting that happened weeks before at a friend’s house.
On the first day of testimony Carrillo recounted the brief encounter he had with the man who shot him.
“He asked me if I was banging and I said ‘No, is that a problem?’ Then he said ‘I’m a Sureno’ and he shot me,” Carrillo told the jury.
Carrillo has no gang affiliation and told the jury he was wearing the jersey because he was a fan of the football team.
Turlock Police investigators had few leads to pursue in the shooting and after a month it appeared the case might languish away until a tip broke everything open. A teenager picked up on an unrelated charge in Ceres wanted to strike a deal in exchange for the names of the individuals responsible for the shooting. That tip and subsequent search warrants, led to the arrest of Tafolla, Armando Zaragoza, Ricardo Ordaz, and Marco Antonio Moreno Robles for the shooting.
In previous court proceedings Zaragoza pled no contest to being an accessory and Robles was found guilty of attempted murder and being an accessory. 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.
On Friday Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Owen, who is prosecuting the case, rolled out some of the potentially strongest evidence against Tafolla, including a videotaped confession and Ordaz’s testimony.
In the videotaped interview with Turlock Police Detective Douglas Ravaglioli and Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office Investigator Froilan Mariscal, Tafolla initially denied any involvement or knowledge of the shooting. Under further questioning Tafolla admitted to being present at the shooting, but said he never got out of the car and was “too drunk and high” to remember anything.
As the interview progressed Tafolla began to get more emotional and in a shaky voice said he was “scared” about the events of that night.
“Were you scared because you thought you had killed the guy?” Ravaglioli asked. “Were you trying to kill him?”
“No. I don’t know what I was doing,” Tafolla said. “I didn’t mean to hit him. When I shot him I was like, ‘Oh (expletive)!’”
“I didn’t even know that guy,” Tafolla said a few minutes later in the interview. “We just knew Nortenos hang out there.”
Ordaz testified that he was a member of the Westside Via Locos, a Sureno gang. He stated the men went out looking for a Norteno because someone had done a drive-by at his house and they “had to draw the line somewhere.” He stated they had all been hanging out in Ceres drinking and smoking marijuana when the idea was raised to “smoke a Northerner,” by which he meant shooting a suspected Norteno gang member, Ordaz explained.
Ordaz testified that Tafolla volunteered to do the shooting because he wanted the other gang members to respect him and it was a way for him to become a part of the Via Locos.
“Shooting a Northerner was like a high-five,” Ordaz said.
Ordaz testified the four men drove to Turlock armed with a 25-caliber semiautomatic gun and were searching for a Norteno when they happened upon Carrillo. He recalled seeing Tafolla get out of the car and approach Carrillo and hearing Tafolla ask, ‘What’s up fool? You banging?’
“Then I heard two shots,” Ordaz said.
Under cross-examination by Tafolla’s defense attorney, Ordaz admitted to getting rid of the gun used in the shooting and saving a bandana used to catch the casings from the gun as it was fired. He said the casings were thrown out along the freeway.
Ordaz is scheduled to take the witness stand again Monday morning when the trial resumes.