Three witnesses including Carlos Diaz, the alleged driver for the four people accused of killing 16-year-old Lorenzo Carachure in 2007, took the stand on the fifth day of the murder trial, Wednesday, June 2. Defendants Ruben Mize, Ricardo Nava, Bryan Medinilla and Raul Diaz all face murder and attempted murder charges. Prosecutors allege that Raul Diaz used a carjack to hit Carachure in the head, and then Medinilla and Mize stabbed him — causing his death. It is also alleged Nava had a knife.
The much-anticipated testimony of Diaz began with a reminder to him from prosecutor Hans Almgren that a plea deal they worked out is contingent upon honesty and full disclosure in court. Diaz, who is pleading to accessory to murder with a gang enhancement, said that unlike his brother, Eastside gang member George Diaz, he was never a gangster, and talked about his non-gang-involved group of friends who were fans of cycling, Metallica, and would be best described as “punksters.”
Diaz explained to the court that the only reason he was connected to the alleged gang-related murder of Carachure is that he was trying to do a favor for his sister, Lucero Uribe, by giving her friends a ride. Diaz testified that on the night of July 16, 2007, he was headed to his girlfriend’s house after picking up cocaine from a friend’s apartment when he saw his sister among a group of about 10 youths outside the already-closed Pennywise Market, and slowed to a stop to speak with her. He rolled down his window and briefly exchanged words with Uribe, who asked him to give her friends a ride — telling him that he would just be dropping them off and it would be very quick, said Diaz, who wanted to get to his girlfriend’s house and do cocaine, but agreed to drive since it would be fast.
After agreeing to the favor, Diaz says he saw five people get into the car. He said the “whole truck was filled.” He did not recall seeing anyone jump into the bed of the truck and could only be certain of two of his passengers’ identities — Ruben Mize, who was in the passenger seat, and Emilio Mora, who sat directly behind Mize. The others he had never met. Mize allegedly directed Diaz where to go, and had him drive up and down San Andres on the Westside. Diaz told the court he just did what Mize said without questioning it because he “couldn’t imagine being in that type of situation” (the murder of Carachure) and thought they were headed to a party. According to Diaz, he was then directed to San Pascual, where they saw a group of three people walking down the street and someone in the cab of the truck said “Westsiders.” After stopping the car at Mize’s request, everyone rushed out of the car (except Carlos Diaz) and ran toward the Westsiders, said Diaz. In addition to the five people in the car with him, Diaz stated that he also saw two figures jump out of the bed of the truck. Diaz maintained that he did not see any weapons as the group exited the car.
Diaz recalled that he heard Mize say, “What’s up,” and out the back window of his truck saw someone in a white shirt chasing someone in a dark shirt down the street, and another white-shirted boy take a swing at a dark-shirted boy — alleging that the Eastsiders were wearing white shirts and the Westsiders were wearing dark shirts.
Explaining to the court that he was “freaking out,” Diaz said that he closed the doors of his truck and began to drive away, not wanting anything to do with the fight. But before he was even a block away he heard a voice that he recognized as Mize’s scream his name, so he stopped. Mize then climbed into the passenger seat, two people jumped in the bed of the truck, and they sped away, said Diaz. Diaz remembered running a red light as he frantically drove, and after about a minute he pulled over at a softball field near City College to let the people in the back of the truck move to the cab. It was then that Diaz saw Emilio Mora, he told the court. He had identified the third person as Ricardo Nava, but also recalled the person had a tattoo on his face – which Detective Gary Siegel later testified that Nava did not, based on a mug shot taken after the murder in which there were no tattoos on Nava’s face.
As he was driving, Diaz said he heard people saying excitedly and loudly, “I think we killed him,” “I hit him with a bike,” and “I cleaned mine.” Mora was worried and wanted to drive to Ventura to hide out. The third, unidentified person whom Diaz originally referred to as being Nava, allegedly made a “gurgling” sound, mimicking the sounds of Carachure when he died, which upon request Diaz tried to reproduce for the court.
Diaz stated that he did not see blood on the defendants the night of the murder, but made note that at the time he was not wearing his glasses, was very shaken, and didn’t really want to know about or have any involvement with the incident. Diaz claimed that between 11 p.m. and midnight he dropped the boys off at Mize’s house; Mize told him not to tell the police anything if they questioned him.
Upon further questioning, Diaz stated that in February 2008, when a party Diaz’s sister threw was going to be broken up by the police, a group of people — including Nava — rushed into Diaz’s room to hide. Diaz claimed that when he asked Nava if he was there on the night of the incident, Nava nodded yes and said “yeah.” The attorneys of both defendants Bryan Medinilla and Nava repeatedly confirmed with Carlos Diaz that at no point did he actually see, and thus had no personal knowledge, that Medinilla or Nava were in his truck, either to or from the murder scene.
Prior to Diaz, Denise Sandoval, a friend of defendant Medinilla, testified Wednesday. Sandoval told jurors of a discussion she had with Medinilla, a friend for several years, three weeks after the night of Carachure’s death. Sandoval said Medinilla, also known as “Lil Risky,” joined her (age 16 at the time) at her home, where he began the conversation with regular catching up chat. Eventually Medinilla asked if Sandoval had heard about the Carachure incident, and then admitted to her that he was a participant, said Sandoval.
According to the witness, Medinilla said the July 16 chain of events began with his encounter with Westsiders as he was leaving CADA (an agency that offers support for youths who are dealing with drug and alcohol problems) at around 4 or 5 p.m. on the evening of the incident. Two Westsiders allegedly flashed gang signs at Medinilla, who then felt compelled to call his friends and have them pick him up and take him back to the Eastside. Sandoval told the court that Medinilla told her that he and a group of about five people drove to the Westside later that night, eventually spotting a group of three Westsiders walking around, with whom they started a fight.
Sandoval alleges that Medinilla told her that two of the Westsiders took off running, and he and his friends “jumped” the remaining person (Carachure), who was saying “let me go” as they continued to beat him up. Medinilla also confessed to stabbing Carachure with a picket-resembling piece of wood after someone had already knocked him to the ground by hitting him in the head, said Sandoval. In cross-examination, Medinilla’s attorney James Crowder asked Sandoval about the accuracy of her memory, because she did not mention in her answers to prosecutor Hans Almgren that Medinilla had claimed he stabbed the victim in the neck — a specification regarding location of injury that Det. Siegel later confirmed she had provided in a May 2008 interview with him.
According to Sandoval, Medinilla indicated to her that he did not go to the Westside intending to commit murder and had not brought weapons with him — he found his weapon, the aforementioned wooden object, at the scene of the murder. Siegel later testified that he was not aware of any evidence confirming the use of a wood picket in the murder of Lorenzo Carachure. Sandoval also said Medinilla mentioned the driver leaving — which is consistent with the testimony of the alleged driver, Carlos Diaz.
Concluding the day on the stand was Carla Neri, ex-girlfriend of Emilio Mora, with whom she has a one-and-a-half-year-old child. She is a also close friend of Lucero Uribe, and dated Raul Diaz briefly in June 2007. Neri testified that she was with Uribe and the group of boys at the Pennywise Market on the night of the murder of Lorenzo Carachure. Around 10 p.m., Carlos Diaz showed up in a red truck and within five minutes all the boys who had allegedly been at the market — Diaz, Mora, Mize, Diaz, Nava, and Medinilla — had disappeared, said Neri. She was unable to confirm who was in the truck because she was in the store while they were getting in, but Neri told the court that she saw Mize in the truck because he was in the passenger seat, which does not have tinted windows.
Later, the pair allegedly walked to Mize’s house where they met with Mize, Medinilla, and Mora. Neri mentioned in her testimony that Carlos Diaz had already left. Neri said that after about five minutes, Robert Martinez, brother of Ruben Mize, emerged from the house and was acting nervous. All the boys were acting nervous, according to Neri, who said they were shifting around and pacing. Mize told the girls he thought they killed someone, but Neri maintained that she never saw any blood or weapons on the boys. Neri said that after a while, Mora was picked up by someone in a small car.
The attorneys for Medinilla, Raul Diaz, and Nava drew much attention to Neri’s statement that she never saw anyone get in or out of the truck — and never actually saw anyone in it except Carlos Diaz and Ruben Mize. In addition, attorney Neil Levinson pointed out that his client, Nava, was not at Mize’s house when the girls were there.
The trial ended for the day with Neri being cross-examined by Raul Diaz’s attorney, Sam Eaton, who brought attention to some of Neri’s previous statements. Neri repeated for the court that she had described Raul Diaz as being traumatized, and said that one of the people allegedly involved in the murder had informed her that Junior (Raul Diaz) didn’t do anything and had been obviously upset by the incident.