It’s all over but for the jury’s verdict in the month-long trial of the People of the State of California vs. Luis Gabriel-Rio Sosa, which concluded Thursday, March 5, with closing arguments. Sosa is accused of first-degree murder for the shooting and killing of Frank “Pancho” Tacadena.
In the late afternoon of September 13, 2006, as Frank Tacadena pulled out of the driveway of his apartment complex at 419 W. Islay St., he was approached and shot in the neck with a .22-caliber handgun. Multiple corroborated witness testimonies (taken during police interviews and during the course of the trial) as well as fingerprint and video evidence put two men at the scene: Sosa and longtime friend and fellow gang-member Johnny Lopez. Lopez, who lived in an apartment complex adjacent to the one where Tacadena lived, is also charged in connection with Tacadena’s murder but his trial has yet to commence. Lopez had had previous altercations with Tacadena surrounding their mutual drug habits. In this trial, Lopez testified against Sosa with immunity, saying it was Sosa, not him, who shot Tacadena.
Speaking to a full courtroom, which included friends and family of both the victim and defendant, prosecutor Hilary Dozer began closing statements by explaining to the jury exactly why they should convict Sosa for the murder: According to Dozer, Sosa’s actions met the criteria of first-degree murder as he was guilty of “lying in wait.” Although the shooting may not have been premeditated, Dozer said, the fact that Sosa waited for an opportune moment to shoot Tacadena suggests that it was a willful and conscious act of violence, and therefore necessitates a corresponding sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Dozer explained that both Lopez and Kathy Tacadena, who was in the car with her husband when he was shot, said in their testimonies that Sosa and Lopez were walking in the street the day of the incident and were almost hit by Frank Tacadena. After Tacadena circled his driveway and stopped his car near the sidewalk, Sosa supposedly approached the car from the driver’s side and said, “You got a problem with my homie?” to which Tacadena replied, “What’s it to you? Fuck Johnny and fuck you too.” That, Dozer said, prompted Sosa to pull out a gun (which he had allegedly borrowed from Lopez earlier that day) and shoot Tacadena at point blank range.
Dozer went on to recap the trial’s proceedings, saying that the facts in evidence consistently pointed toward Sosa’s guilt, including deliberate “lying in wait.” Dozer argued that Lopez’s testimony was not only valid, but that Lopez was the “best possible witness” for this case because he cooperated with law enforcement at the risk of gang retaliation, besides the fact that his recitation of the day’s events was, according to Dozer, consistent and plausible. Dozer also highlighted the testimony of Tommy Sosa, Luis Sosa’s uncle. Tommy Sosa said that his nephew admitted the killing to him in his Las Vegas home, to which Luis had fled. Dozer concluded by repeating, over and over, what Sosa had supposedly told his uncle during this confession, “I did it, Uncle Tommy. I did it. I did it, Uncle Tommy. I did it : “
Defense attorney Doug Hayes then took his turn addressing the jury. Hayes attempted to discredit Lopez’s entire testimony and story. According to Hayes, Lopez (who was an admitted alcoholic at the time of the shooting) could not be trusted because of his addictions, and the jury “can’t believe anything he says.” Hayes went on to display an empty jug, explaining that that was the amount of hard alcohol Lopez drank each day and that anyone who drank that much could not be entirely truthful or accurate. Hayes also attacked Lopez’s motive for testifying, adding that Lopez’s immunity allowed him to say whatever he wanted without legal reprisal
Hayes told the jury that the trial should be a “common sense experience.” The jury should be able to recognize the glaring inconsistencies in the prosecutor’s case, Hayes said, and take stock of the fact that not a single witness [besides Lopez] was able to 100 percent identify Sosa as the shooter. Hayes went on to say that for the jurors to convict Sosa, they would need to be completely convinced that there was not the slightest possibility that someone else-namely Lopez-had pulled the trigger. Hayes argued that Lopez had both means and motive: Lopez admitted to owning the murder weapon (which was never recovered) and confessed to a long-standing feud with Tacadena. According to Hayes, Dozer failed to prove unequivocally that Sosa was the one that shot Tacadena.
The Santa Barbara Police Department also came under attack in Hayes’s closing argument, as he claimed that detectives prematurely decided on Sosa’s guilt and manipulated their investigation to fit their suspicion. (Hayes went on to cite a specific recorded interrogation during which confusion arose around a name Lopez said to detectives.)
Dozer countered, in his rebuttal, that Hayes’s argument relied on red herrings: The defense attorney tried to throw the jury off track, said Dozer, by introducing irrelevant and unimportant pieces of information.