Thursday’s scheduled conclusion of evidence presentation in the trial for the murder of Lorenzo Carachure ran over into Monday, finally bringing an end to testimonies. The two days consisted of testimony by Detectives Gary Siegel and Jose Latorre, and Officer Alexander Cruz. Almost three years after the incident on July 16, 2007, the trial is nearing its finish, with closing arguments taking place on Tuesday, after which the jury will deliberate over verdicts for defendants Ruben Mize, Bryan Medinilla, Ricardo Nava, and Raul Diaz.
The criminal street gang involvement charges sparked much discussion of whether or not the crime was indeed gang-related, and the significance of committing a crime to benefit a gang. With a description of a hypothetical situation closely resembling what allegedly happened July 16, prosecutor Hans Almgren asked Siegel his opinion on whether or not the situation exemplified a crime committed for the benefit of a gang. Based on his training and experience with gangs and their behavior, Siegel determined the hypothetical situation to be gang-related. The detective explained that killing is considered “committing the ultimate act for the gang,” it increases gang status, and the gang benefits from the fear it instills in the community.
On July 14, 2007, there was an incident on State Street involving Westside gang members Lorenzo and Noe Carachure, and Rogelio Hernandez, and three Eastside gang members, according to testimony. When asked about whether this incident was likely to have been planned, Siegel said, “In my opinion, it was probably unplanned.” He explained that when gang members run into someone from a rival gang, they are expected to fight or do something.
Neil Levinson, attorney for Nava, cited a book about gangs, which said that gang crimes tend to be impulsive, unplanned events. Siegel disagreed, saying that he believes the majority is planned, because he considers crossing into the rival gang’s territory as part of a planned crime. Levinson questioned the gang expert qualifications of Siegel, who has attended conferences and taken some classes, although they were more generalized. “The best training is in the field,” said Siegel. He also explained that the majority of gang fights are assaults instead of homicides, and thus end in injury instead of death.
Jumping back to the testimony of an earlier witness, Carla Neri, Levinson questioned Siegel on her statements regarding Nava. Siegel confirmed that in her interviews, Neri never said that Nava stabbed anyone, and didn’t mention that this happened until her testimony during the trial. “She said that he told her he was the only one responsible,” explained Siegel.
The detective’s testimony carried over into Monday, resuming with a discussion of Medinilla’s alleged gang involvement at the time of the homicide on July 16, 2007. There was no police record during which Medinilla was with Mize, Diaz, or Nava, Siegel told the court, though he was in a photograph with Robert Martinez, Mize’s older brother and an admitted gang member. Medinilla’s attorney, James Crowder, confirmed with Siegel that he did not know for certain if Medinilla had been jumped into a gang prior to the incident. Siegel said that he had an SB tattoo on his stomach that led him to believe that Medinilla was already a member of the Eastside gang.
Asked about the beach search for knives allegedly used in the homicide, Siegel said that they were never found. There were two searches conducted, one with Emilio Mora, an accomplice in the case who showed the detective where he thought the knives were disposed of. A second search was conducted with the FBI dive team in the slough, in which no weapons were discovered. However, when questioned by Almgren, Siegel explained that the slough is long and “based on the area they covered in one day, it would take several days to get to the ocean.”
Defense attorneys also called into question the reliability of an informant, Chris Diaz, whose collected material is a critical piece of the prosecution’s case. It was confirmed by Siegel that he had later found out that Diaz had been using marijuana, as well as furnishing it to minors. He also agreed that Diaz had stolen a cell phone charger, however, the detective went back to the store later and paid for it. Somebody’s life was at stake, and the cell phone was Diaz’s only way of contacting the police, explained Siegel. Crowder also questioned how Diaz was paid, with Siegel admitting he was paid, but it was a small amount and it went directly to his expenses.
The issue of the carjack arose again with Siegel on the stand. Authorities allege Diaz hit the victim on the head with a carjack before he was stabbed by others. Siegel described what the first person from law enforcement who arrived at the crime scene found — Lorenzo Carachure lying on the ground, with his cousin and friend kneeling beside him. His cousin, Noe, was tending to Lorenzo’s wounds — but no carjack was found in the area. Mora, who allegedly told the detective a carjack was used, only identified it as the weapon after he had had been shown pictures of various objects. Prior to being shown potential weapons, he was unable to identify the material or exact shape — he held his hands up in a rectangle at one point.
Following Siegel’s testimony, both Cruz and Latorre took the stand — they together interviewed Noe Carachure at Cottage Hospital the night of the incident. Noe gave a brief description of a heavy-set Hispanic male with a goatee and moustache, alleged Latorre. Cruz said that Noe listed two Eastside gang members other than the four defendants as being present, and stabbing both he and his cousin Lorenzo. Noe also allegedly identified a burgundy SUV and a white Oldsmobile as being at the scene, and out of the SUV came six to eight people with knives, bottles, and bats.
Latorre explained that at the time of the original interview he knew he wasn’t going to get 100 percent of the story. When asked why, he told the court, “I understood that I was talking to a gang member;” often they don’t tell the police who they saw because should a suspect be picked up, it would eliminate their opportunity for retaliation, he said. However, the detective noted to the court that Noe was in shock, nervous, and sad, and that during times like these most people get tunnel vision. “It’s possible that at that moment he was unable to recollect.”