Eddie Vasquez, then 23, was killed after being stabbed once in the chest by Matthew Prock at a gas station in Carpinteria just after midnight on May 16, 2000.
Prock was convicted of second degree murder by a Ventura jury in 2001 and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.
But almost 10 years later, after a Court of Appeal denied his appeal and the California Supreme Court refused to hear his case, a federal judge decided the trial court had erred in its instructions to the jury, and said a new trial was needed.
So Prock is back in court, and his new trial opened Thursday afternoon here in Santa Barbara where veteran prosecutor Ron Zonen outlined what happened that night. “The evidence in this case will show the defendant committed an extreme act of senseless violence,” Zonen told the jury.
He told them that Vasquez and three friends had gone to the AM/PM gas station and mini market on Casitas Pass to get some food just after midnight. Vasquez and his friend, Justin Rosenberger, had just gotten out of the car, and Prock, who had just bought a pack of cigarettes inside, bumped them both in the shoulder as he walked by.
Words were exchanged. Prock eventually left, and the four continued to buy food. A few minutes later, Vasquez, hamburger in hand, joined his friends outside and though the others believed the “original unpleasantness was over,” Zonen said, Prock had returned, and with an overhead motion, plunged the knife into Vasquez’s chest.
He ran away, got into a vehicle, and left.
The three friends, meanwhile, jumped into Vasquez’s car to take him to the hospital. He lost consciousness halfway there, Rosenberger later testified, and was dead by the time he arrived. Zonen said the type of injury he had sustained would’ve been fatal even if it had happened right outside the hospital because of where the knife struck the heart.
Afterward, the three friends gave a description of the vehicle, and Prock was located at his apartment just a few blocks from the gas station.
Zonen is already through three witnesses, and is expected to call 11 total. He will have to deal with fading memories and destroyed evidence, which could complicate things to a certain extent. However, security footage from the gas station shows some of the interaction, and the fact that Prock stabbed Vasquez is hardly in dispute.
Deputy Public Defender Mindi Boulet was brief in her opening statements, telling the jury opening statements were like a movie trailer, and that she’d “much prefer you watch the movie.”
Prock, when he took the stand in the first trial, claimed he acted out of self defense. He said Vasquez rushed at him, and he closed his eyes, raised the knife, and stepped forward. He didn’t intend to kill Vasquez, he argued.