Day four of the Luis Sosa murder trial-Sosa is being tried for the shooting murder of Frank Tacadena on September 13, 2006-continued Thursday with witness testimonies. The afternoon session began with Sgt. Marty Ensign‘s testimony, as he was one of the lead detectives in the case. (Ensign held the rank of detective at the time of the initial investigation). Ensign, at the request of prosecutor Hilary Dozer, explained to the jury the processes involved in a lineup, including the specific protocol undertaken during the lineup involving Sosa organized in the wake of Tacadena’s murder.
Each member of the lineup, Ensign explained, was asked to walk back and forth then repeat the line, “You gotta problem with my homie?” This was what Kathy Tacadena-Frank Tacadena’s wife, who was in the car with him on West Islay Street when he was shot-reported hearing the gunman say. The six witnesses present during the lineup (they were separated from the suspects by a one-way mesh screen) were then asked to identify, if possible, who they saw and/or heard on the day in question. Of the six participating witnesses, only one successfully identified Sosa. Four abstained from making a choice and the remaining witness identified a different individual than Sosa.
Dozer, continuing his line of questioning, then turned to Ensign’s interview with John Lopez-Sosa’s friend, fellow gang member, and murder suspect in the same case. (Lopez’s trial has yet to commence, but Sosa’s attorney is alleging that Lopez pulled the trigger.) Ensign, though hazy on many of the details of the initial investigation that began more than two years ago, said he had personally believed Lopez’s account that it was Sosa, not Lopez, who had pulled the trigger of the gun that killed Tacadena. As interrogation records were read aloud to the court, defense attorney Doug Hayes questioned Ensign’s understanding of the conversation and suggested that Ensign had not properly identified certain names and people during the interview. Specifically, Hayes dwelled on the confusion that arose in the interview when Lopez referred to his cousin, David Vega, as “Junior.” Hayes also raised doubts as to the professionalism and conduct of the Santa Barbara Police Department in their search of Lopez’s residence.
Later in the proceedings Vega was called to the stand. Vega, who was in custody for failing to appear in court after being served a subpoena (he entered court in shackles and left without restraints), had been identified in numerous testimonies as the man who drove Sosa to Ventura after the shooting, and who allowed Sosa, Lopez, and Sonja Salazar (Lopez’s girlfriend) to stay at his house overnight in Ventura on the day of the murder. Vega was arrested on September 18 as an accessory to murder after the fact but, after interviews with detectives, was released without any charges.
Vega, who had no prior felonies and had never served time in jail, claimed he was completely unaware of the shooting as he drove Sosa to Ventura. According to both Lopez and Vega in their respective testimonies, Vega had prior plans to drive Lopez to Ventura for personal reasons, and Sosa, who had just been released from Santa Barbara County Jail that morning, was simply along for the ride. Vega went on to explain that after meeting at his residence in Ventura (Salazar drove Lopez in her car), he left again shortly thereafter. On his way to a friend’s house, Vega reportedly dropped off Sosa in a residential area in proximity to the Ventura Pier-Vega did not see Sosa again after that. During questioning, Hayes asked Vega to describe Lopez’s demeanor over the course of the day and evening, to which Vega answered that Lopez seemed “uncomfortable, pale, and sweaty.” Sosa allegedly threw the weapon off the Ventura Pier sometime after the incident.
The trial continued on with testimony given by Det. Gary Siegel. Siegel, at the request of Dozer, illuminated a past incident involving both Lopez and Sosa during which they were detained for possible assault. Siegel went on to tentatively establish a correlation between the aggressive and challenging language reportedly used by Sosa in that instance (Siegel was not directly involved in the case; he had heard the details from another officer) and the incident with Tacadena during which similar hostile remarks were made. Hayes objected frequently during this portion of the hearing, citing hearsay and irrelevance, and many sidebars were taken between Judge Frank Ochoa and the attorneys.