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Mize Trial, Day 16

Closing Arguments Conclude


Friday, June 25, 2010

A Santa Barbara jury has begun deliberations to determine whether defendants Bryan Medinilla, Raul Diaz, Ricardo Nava, and Ruben Mize are responsible for the death of 16-year-old Lorenzo Carachure, the victim of a homicide on July 16, 2007, and the attempted murder of Carachure’s cousin, Noe, and their friend, Rogelio Hernandez. The four face one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and one count of being a member of a criminal street gang. Mize is also facing an additional count of attempted murder stemming from an attack he was allegedly involved in months later.

Though the four were all minors at the time of the incident (Mize and Medinilla were 15, Nava and Diaz were 16), they are all being charged as adults and could face life behind bars. The jury began deliberating mid-morning, and is expected to continue until 4:30 Thursday afternoon. Friday the court is closed to trials, and the 12 jurors will continue deliberations Monday morning.

Before closing arguments Tuesday came the jury instruction, in which the judge laid out various options and types of charges — what may be considered and what certain terms mean. The jury was instructed to determine that the homicide was unlawful, the defendants were not acting in imperfect self-defense, and whether there was a specific intent — in addition to many other factors. They also need to determine that there was an assault with a deadly or dangerous weapon, that the defendants tried to commit murder or attempted, and that a reasonable person would have known the outcome of the situation.

Throughout their arguments, all four defense attorneys worked to convince the jury that the death of Lorenzo Carachure was not premeditated or deliberate — thus excluding the possibility of being found guilty of murder or attempted murder. The alternatives suggested by the defense ranged from not guilty to guilty of voluntary manslaughter at the worst. Lack of evidence, unreliable witnesses, and manipulation of the facts by the prosecution were popular arguments — any and all of which could raise reasonable doubt.

Here is a rundown of the closing arguments that have taken place over the last three days.

The Prosecution

Hans Almgren began his closing arguments with a picture of Lorenzo Carachure projected on a screen, an open reminder of how young the victim was. “I know it’s hard for people to relate,” said Almgren, acknowledging that the members of the jury likely don’t have much in common with the victim or defendants — such as age. Almgren got straight to the point — “He was murdered,” he said of Carachure. “It has been proven.”

Almgren explained that he does not need to prove that the defendants were members of a gang, but only that they participated in an active street gang. The tape recorded by informant Chris Diaz of his car ride with his cousin, defendant Ruben Mize, was played for the court. On the tape the jury could hear Mize’s discussion of the murder of Lorenzo Carachure, referred to as “Nemo,” and also of the attempted murder of Prospero Sotelo. Mize talked about the “kill shot” to Carachure’s throat, and mentions him being hit with a carjack. “There’s no way he could fight back,” Mize said. “It was like he was asleep.” When asked how he felt, and if he had an adrenaline rush, Mize replied, “No, just like I feel right now.” Almgren explained that when Chris Diaz decided to testify, he was not being paid. When asked why he did it, Diaz allegedly replied that it was the “right thing to do.”

Two rap songs written and recorded by Mize were played, the lyrics expressing violent urges, dedication to the Eastside gang, and a willingness to kill or die for his gang. “I haven’t killed yet, but I have the heart to do a one 187 homicide,” Mize rapped in the recording. In a song titled “Homicidal Thoughts,” he expressed that his enemies are targets, implying to Almgren that Mize was willing to kill or assault members of his rival gang.

Almgren explained a crime and/or the outcome of it being “foreseeable” and “natural and probable.” According to Almgren, the death or attempted murder of Carachure was foreseeable and natural and probable to the defendants. Almgren said that they all got in the car, showed weapons, and knew they were heading over into rival gang territory — these factors would lead a person to have an understanding of what was going to happen and how. The “kill shot” was foreseeable, said Almgren, the stabbing and death was natural and probable, and the stabbing and conduct was foreseeable. These factors contribute to the severity of the crime committed, and could lead to a murder conviction.

“This wasn’t a self-defense situation,” said Almgren, “This was a planned murder.” Almgren then presented the way he believes the events transpired: the defendants got out of the car and ran with knives toward the three Westsiders. Diaz hit Lorenzo with a carjack, knocking him out. Mize and Medinilla stabbed him in the neck and stomach before running away. Nava, who had been occupied with stabbing the other two Westsiders came back over and stabbed Lorenzo.

Almgren reviewed many witnesses’ testimonies, using a PowerPoint slide for each, piecing the stories together to form one explanation — in which all four defendants are guilty. The accounts given by friends, girlfriends, doctors, detectives, relatives, and bystanders to the crime were recapped for the jury, clarifying confusion that may have arisen from a trial in which there are four defendants.

To hurt a rival, was malice, said Almgren. “What can you take away from them that they can never get back? Their life. It’s sick.” All of the defendants took direct steps in the murder of Lorenzo Carachure according to Almgren, and all four should be charged with murder in the first degree. “The law requires that I prove certain elements to you,” Almgren explained. “That has been done.”

Joseph Allen (for Ruben Mize)

Allen began his closing argument with a discussion of statement interpretation and an examination of wording. “I killed him” is a clear statement, said Allen, but “I think we killed somebody” and “I think somebody was killed” are not. “This doesn’t tell you who did what to who,” Allen pointed out. In a recording of Mize talking about the assault of Prospero Sotelo, he says “that’s where we got that fool,” which the prosecution wanted the jury to believe is about Mize attacking the victim personally, but, according to Allen, “It establishes nothing more than the Eastside gang got him in that area.”

Mize is being charged with attempted murder in the Sotelo case, for which Allen argued he is not guilty. “If five Eastside gang members with knives had [Sotelo] on the ground and wanted to kill him — why is he still alive?” Answering his own question Allen continued, “He’s alive, I suggest to you, because they didn’t want to kill him.” This demonstrates the absence of intent to kill, which is necessary for conviction of attempted murder, said Allen. Under the current evidence, the jury cannot find Mize guilty of attempted murder, “if they wanted Mr. Sotelo dead, he’d be dead,” Allen argued.

Allen described the prosecutor’s argument that when a gang goes into the rival’s territory with knives, it is foreseeable that someone will get hurt or killed, and under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, the perpetrator will be held responsible legally for things other people do in the fight. Citing data, Allen informed the jury that there is approximately one gang-related death per year, but there were two that year, and approximately 50 gang-related assault incidents per year. The math would show, for the year 2007, there was a 4 percent fatality rate, and therefore the natural and probable consequence would not be that somebody was going to get killed. But, in fact, “The unusual exceptional consequence, is homicide,” said Allen. Mize would not have gone to fight expecting it would end in a death, and the fatality was not premeditated or intentional — thus Mize cannot be found guilty of murder, Allen claimed.

Mize was made out to be the ringleader of the fight, said Allen of the prosecution’s argument, and pointed out that Mize was just 15 years old, asking the jury to question whether someone of that age would be able to be calculated in a choice to kill. Going and looking for trouble is not premeditation, Allen said, and there isn’t any evidence of premeditation and deliberation for the injury of the two stabbing victims and the death of Carachure.

“It’s been going on for years, and it’s sad every time,” said Allen of gang-related deaths and violence. “This is especially sad. Four people’s lives have been changed forever.” Allen spoke of the impact on the defendants’ lives and others involved. “A 16-year-old died. This is an immeasurably worse tragedy,” Allen said, before requesting that the jury set aside sympathy — for the victim or defendants — and look at the facts. Allen closed with simple instructions: “Weigh the evidence as dispassionately as you can, and give us justice.”

James Crowder (for Bryan Medinilla)

Next to present his closing argument was Crowder, asking the jury to consider three things: the facts, the law, and reasonable doubt. To find Medinilla, or any of the defendants, to be guilty, the jury needs to have an abiding conviction, Crowder reminded.

There is a real lack of physical evidence, such as hair, DNA, or fingerprints, explained Crowder. They don’t have anything to tie any of the defendants — especially Medinilla — to this case, said Crowder. “The evidence against Mr. Medinilla is not sufficient to find him guilty — especially of murder,” he said. There is no recording about anything that Medinilla said, there was no independent witness, and nothing to support what witnesses have said, alleged Crowder. “The facts are bad for the prosecution.”

The testimonies given against Medinilla were unreliable claimed Crowder, listing those of Emilio Mora and Robert Martinez, both of whom were looking at life in prison before agreeing to deals with the prosecution in exchange for their testimony. “They would say almost anything to get out of that,” argued Crowder, saying that the pair told the prosecutor what he wanted to hear in exchange for a better deal. The result, said Crowder, was “wishy-washy testimony” that the jury was getting from the witnesses. Crowder explained that the effort of multiple witnesses to please the prosecution in order protect themselves raises the level of reasonable doubt.

Crowder insisted that no one planned the incident, so it was not premeditated, death was not intended, and it was certainly not first degree murder — which Medinilla is being charged with. This is a case of voluntary manslaughter, if that, Crowder told the jury. “There was heat of passion, and sudden quarrel — they got carried away and went too far.” Proof of this is the many accounts from witnesses alleging that everyone seemed excited during the incident, explained Crowder.

There is no evidence that anyone said anything about fighting before they traveled to the Westside, said Crowder. Medinilla was 15 years-old and unexperienced. “What could he expect? What could he know?” the attorney asked. Crowder discussed whether a 15-year-old could fully consider the consequences of his actions, and stressed the point that he had an underdeveloped sense of maturity. People of that age, Crowder claimed, “do rash things without thinking about what they are doing, or are unable to think about them because they are not developed enough.”

Crowder argued that in Almgren’s closing argument, he used things like pictures and tapes to sway the jury, attempting to be influential, but these things cannot compensate for facts. “Nobody said they intended to kill anybody — the prerequisite for all of these crimes,” explained Crowder. “It was a gang fight gone bad, plain and simple,” Crowder said. “Bryan Medinilla is not guilty of murder; if anything, and at worst, would be voluntary manslaughter.”

Neil Levinson (for Ricardo Nava)

Levinson started by speaking candidly to the jury about the way they view gangs, and how original negative views may have been worsened by the excessive discussion of them during the trial. After being shown so much violent evidence like songs and photographs, “it’s easy to see them as not human,” he said of the gang members. “It’s easy to dismiss these people.” Levinson asked the jury to consider how they would feel if it was a friend or relative of theirs who was on trial — making the point that everyone wants and deserves a fair trial.

While the prosecution had argued that the outcomes of the incident were natural and probable consequences, Levinson claimed that when considering that there are only one to two gang-related murders per year, the foreseeable outcome is really the opposite.

Levinson talked about the unreliability of witnesses — especially Lucero Uribe and Carla Neri, both of whom have strong ties to defendants or others involved and both said the defendants made claims to them after-the-fact, connecting them to the murder. Uribe is the sister of Carlos Diaz (who drove the group to the Westside) and former girlfriend of Mize, while Neri has a child with Mora and is engaged to him. Levinson, who pointed out how many versions of stories they provided, brought inconsistencies in both of the girls’ testimonies to the attention of the jury. In order for one of the stories Uribe provided to be possible, “Lorenzo Carachure would have had to rise from the dead to jump Diaz and get stabbed in the neck,” said Levinson.

Moving on to Noe Carachure, Levinson noted he originally identified a non-defendant as the stabber, but now admits that was a lie, and now says he is telling the truth. “There is nothing credible about his testimony,” claimed Levinson. “The prosecutor does not trust his witnesses,” he said, further explaining, “If he doesn’t believe his witnesses, neither should you.” Levinson then turned to the testimony of Detective Gary Siegel, saying, “I’m not sure that he’s necessarily qualified to be an expert.” Levinson argued that Siegel seemed evasive in answering a lot of the questions, and seemed to be presenting evidence in a way that fit what the prosecution wanted.

The unbiased witnesses, according to Levinson, were Nathan Keezer and Eliot Winder, but there was a difference in their accounts of the incident. Keezer testified that there was one person stabbing the victim, while Winder said there was a large group. Levinson explained this inconsistency as a variation in distance from the crime — Winder was a block away, Keezer was about 50 feet away.

Ricardo Nava did not stab Lorenzo Carachure, stated Levinson. “That is a fantasy of the prosecutor that is not supported by the facts.” For a first degree murder charge there must be premeditation and deliberation, and there was no evidence of either or credible statements implying there were any — the killing was not planned, said Levinson. All the witnesses against Nava are lying, claimed Levinson, and this creates reasonable doubt

Sam Eaton (for Raul Diaz)

The final closing argument for the day came from Eaton, the attorney for Raul Diaz, or “Junior.” Eaton told the jury that there really wasn’t enough evidence to prove who the stabber was, but, “We certainly have definitive evidence as to who the stabber wasn’t — and it wasn’t Junior,” he said. It is important how you interpret the testimony of the witnesses, explained Eaton, suggesting the jurors should try consider bias, attitude, reliability, motive, and how reasonable the testimony is in light of other facts.

He told the jury that even law enforcement testimonies should be examined objectively; explaining that many statements were inferred and many people became invested in this case. Eaton’s example was Siegel’s interpretation that Raul Diaz’s smiley face tattoo proved that he was in a gang because “Smiley” is his gang moniker. Eaton claimed that Diaz does not have gang tattoos, and the interpretation was an attempt to sway the jury toward the side of the prosecution. After the example, Eaton asked of the jury that they simply pay attention to who is saying something and how they are saying it.

Eaton explained that the prosecution says what Junior did was aiding and abetting — however, that charge requires premeditation and deliberation, knowing in advance that they intended to commit murder, and that they intended to assist. There was “no evidence the killing was planned in advance,” said Eaton, and there was no conversation at the Pennywise Market (where the group originated from on the Eastside) about what they were going to do, and therefore Junior cannot be found guilty of aiding and abetting.

Junior’s police contact cards were for fairly minor issues, and not assault — he was not present at a July 14 gang fight or at the later assault allegedly involving Mize, said Eaton. He used his fists to fight, not a weapon, Eaton said. Later, he cried in front of his friends, in front of the people he wants to show he is brave — demonstrating he was not expecting or ready for what happened, explained Eaton.

He also discounted the prosecution’s claim that Diaz hit the victim over the head with a carjack.“I think there was a jack involved, and someone used it — but not Junior Diaz,” said Eaton. Eaton presented a new idea to the jury, alleging that Mora used the carjack. According to Eaton, this would explain why Mora did not immediately identify the object as a carjack or even draw it, why he said that later he saw Junior at Pennywise with the carjack, and why it’s possible he took the police to the wrong place to search for the weapons. The accusation by Mora that Diaz was at Pennywise with the jack a couple days later was “nonsensical, but distanced him (Mora),” said Eaton.

The prosecution is overreaching, stated Eaton, claiming that they were inviting the witnesses to talk about the dangers of testifying to make them appear brave. The prosecution has four theories on which you can find the defendant guilty, said Eaton. What they are really saying, Eaton explained is that “I hope you can find them on one charge.”

The group went over to gangbang, but there is no evidence that the killing was planned in advance, said Eaton. “Junior did not plan or know of any plan to kill anyone,” he said, adding that Diaz never assisted in the death of Nemo. Eaton asked the jury to look at Raul Diaz’s history and his tears for proof that he is not guilty of murder or attempted murder.

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