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Facebook Page and Gang Expert Impact Closing in Craigslist Robbery Case

Gangby Antoinnette Borbon

After two days of testimony by Detective Joe Perez, who was the state’s main gang expert, the time came to hear the closing arguments.

Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens would begin by explaining the intricate details of each charge and showing the jurors a way to determine verdicts by using what he called “a step by step process.”

Eduardo Orozco is charged with four counts consisting of: robbery, aiding and abetting, and an assault with a deadly weapon, along with a gang enhancement. A vehicle used to commit the alleged robberies is being considered the deadly weapon.

DDA Couzens wasted no time after explaining to the jurors how to understand the verdict forms.

He talked about the two-day testimony of the gang expert, Detective Perez. He asked jurors to look at the Facebook pages where there are posts about doing work for the gang and pictures of defendants throwing gang signs, dressed in gang clothing and using gang lingo.

Couzens asserted that the crimes were committed to benefit the criminal street gang, “Norteños.” He said Detective Perez read the jail admission sheets where both Eduardo Orozco and Oscar Gonzales admitted they were gang members. He even reminded jurors about the “530″ tattoo on the arm of Gonzales. Couzens asked, “Why would you admit you were a gang member on that sheet if you knew it would be used against you?”

He said, “These are scary people, doing scary things,” calling what the defendant was part of  “a collective enterprise.”

One by one, he spoke about the five events and how the scheme was the same method with the same defendants.

Couzens asked jurors to think about the testimony of each witness/victim and how the defendants used “trickery” to rob the items from the victims. He stated, “And you do not have to be a gang member to be charged with a gang enhancement – if a soccer mom rode with her son, who was a gang member, to commit a crime and knew about it without stopping the crime, she could be charged with a gang enhancement.”

Couzens stated once again that “this is not rocket science; it is scary people who do scary things to benefit a group.”

He said it was multiple people who picked them out of a photo line-up.

“But you will hear the defense try to say they were not gang members, and Orozco knew nothing of the gangs other than he had family members of the Norteños,” Couzens asserted.

He stated, “It’s two gang members acting in concert – it’s not a defense to be on drugs or be with gang members because they’re your family,”

Couzens stated it was a five-day hoodlum gang activity, in concert. He pled with jurors to find Eduardo Orozco guilty of all counts.

Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher began her opening with, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have come a long way in society with equality but, in this case, the prosecution and police want you to believe something because they labeled it that.”

Ms. Fisher went right into the testimony of one of the victims, stating, “It’s very clear cut that there are questions about whether or not the victims were pushed down, you heard one victim say he jumped onto the car and could not recall being pushed down and that is something you would remember; and if any of the victims felt these guys were gang members or this was a gang crime, they wouldn’t have tried to stop them, in fact not one victim told police this was gang related or the perpetrators were gang members. You heard Gang Expert Omar Flores testify to the report he took from one victim and he never said it was a gang member.”

Ms. Fisher, raising her voice, said that “it makes sense one of the victims hurt his hand because he stuck it inside the door as they were driving away.”

She stated, “Orozco did stupid things, yes, and he is guilty of three grand thefts yes, but just because police and prosecution label this a gang crime does not mean that it is true.” Fisher’s voice began to quiver.

She pointed to Orozco and said, “Detective Perez is the one who validated him, and Gonzalez out of hasty generalization….” She became silent for a moment, then continued, “And no one asked him about his family dynamics, he is allowed to hang out with family members.”

She stated, “Detective Perez had an explanation for everything, you heard him, but he could never say what leader, or subset or even that he had any prior knowledge of Orozco because he’s not from Woodland, he’s from Arbuckle! Perez admitted he knew nothing of Arbuckle gangs!”

Ms. Fisher stated, “There is no evidence to support my client is an active gang member and admit sheets the prosecution showed you are filled out for their own safety. Detective Perez even changed the wording on the Facebook posts by Orozco and there were no Facebook posts bragging about crimes committed.”

She said the Facebook posts are ambiguous and Detective Perez used circular reasoning, as she stated, “He validated Orozco the day of arrest for being associated with Gonzalez and validated Gonzalez for being with Orozco! You heard him say he had no prior knowledge of Orozco.”

Fisher went on to say, “Gang members don’t tell cops, ‘Norte,’ and Sgt. Delao coming back to the stand, to say today that now he recalls Orozco saying that, is wrong – he cannot do that!”

Fisher explained to jurors, “This is a false dichotomy; cops are appealing to ignorance and authority.” She said there were no dots signifying Norteños on Gonzalez’ or Orozco’s Facebook pages.

She stated, “Why is the clothing of Gonzalez relevant to this case? This is Orozco’s life, he hangs out with his older cousins but it is not enough to label him a gang member or this a string of gang crimes, because police and prosecution say so!”

Fisher, appearing to fight back emotion, ended with, “You are the only ones who can give him a fair verdict! He’s guilty of the three grand thefts but not of being a gang member, it is police and prosecution who have labeled him that!”

Fisher paused….and thanked them.

In his rebuttal, Couzens stated that the defense always has to come up with a list of theories, but, he stated, “Actions speak louder than words, this is not good Angel, bad Angel, they were enjoying what they did to these victims! They laughed! “

Couzens asserted, “This is a collective criminal enterprise!”

He said, “Now some of Ms. Fisher’s argument, I’m not even going to comment on, especially the race card! I would be a fool to say it doesn’t exist but not in this case!” Couzens raised the tempo with, “Police did not single the two defendants out because they were Latino, you heard one of the victims say he saw a white guy? Does it make me a racist because I’m a white prosecutor, prosecuting crimes?”

Couzens stated it was bravado acts that gangs are notorious for and it’s not unheard of to identify yourself to cops by saying, “Norte.”

He said, “Standing up here and saying her client is guilty of crimes is a tactic used by defense.”

He told jurors the defense could have refuted the gang expert testimony but did not. He stated, “You’ve had a week, she’s had a year to prepare!”

He wrapped up his final closing by stating that “if you’re a six year old you could understand the common sense of a gang!”

He said Ms. Fisher did a blistering interrogation on Detective Perez and elicited the fact that her client was a drug addict.

“But it’s not a defense!”

Couzens pleaded, “He is guilty of all charges!”

The jurors were sent to deliberate in the late afternoon.

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14 comments

  1. Offering Balance

    “He talked about the two day testimony of Gang Expert, Detective Joe Perez. He asked jurors to look at the Facebook pages where there are posts about doing work for the gang and pictures of defendants throwing gang signs, dressed in gang clothing and using gang lingo.”

    So it looks like there is more of a gang angle to this and we originally thought.

    What were the the prior crimes committed that were allowed into court?

    • There were not.

      They talked about the Facebook pages in opening. But the question is (A) is he a gang member, it’s not clear that he was. His attorney argued that he was down with the lingo and hung out with friends, but he was not previously validated. And (B) was the crime committed for the purposes of gang activity and there were no colors cited by the victims, no gang language was used and the use of “Norte” was disputed as actually being “no way.”

      From covering the courts, it really depends on the jury here. Some juries will look at this as enough for gang charges and enhancements, others won’t. Can’t really predict.

      My opinion is that the evidence is thin, but perhaps it’s enough for this jury.

  2. “this is not good Angel, bad Angel, they were enjoying what they did to these victims! They laughed! “

    And this is a classic example of playing on the emotions of the jury. Laughing is nor as I recall used in the validation of an individual as a gang member. However Mr. Couzens is using the natural human tendency of the jurors to despise the idea of laughing at victims to sway their opinion in favor of gang activity.

    “Fisher’s voice began to quiver.”

    And now it’s the turn of the defense to try to use a completely irrelevant tactic to sway the jury. Maybe if I am outraged enough, or passionate enough about what I am saying that I will sway the jury.

    What exactly does any of this grandstanding have to do with getting to the truth and restoring “justice ? Until we are willing to see our current adversarial system for what it is, an acting contest between prosecutors and defense attorneys with the accused’s fate as the “Oscar” we will not be able to focus on establishing a justice system that works equitably for all. I find David’s comment very telling. If two different jury’s hearing the same evidence would come to different conclusions, have we not decided that justice by whim or more charitably by perspective is good enough for us ? Can we really not do better than this ?

    • Can we really not do better than this ?

      No, probably not. Have you ever been on a jury? The acting by the opposing counsel is part of it, sure. But you are supposed to decide the case on the evidence. On both jury trials I was on, that was what we went through in deliberations, piece by piece, discussing which version of events we found more credible. That’s really how it works. The theatrics are intended to reinforce the credibility.

      • Don

        I have never been selected for jury duty so I will have to rely on your experience for discussion.
        You strike me as an individual who tends to base his opinions based on information and facts available to you. I have met many, many people in my life who believe that they do this, but are rather emotionally driven as Frankly likes to say. The problem that I see is ” which version of events we found more credible”.
        Isn’t the standard supposed to be beyond a reasonable doubt. My concern is that what is “more credible” to someone who holds a very high standard of objectivity and adherence to fact, may be very different from that of someone who is more easily emotionally swayed. If this were not the case, I believe that our lawyers on both sides would have given up the theatrics long ago.

  3. Davis Progressive

    gang cases are really messed up law. we rushed through the legislation that created penal code 186 and did not reasonably define what benefiting a criminal street gang means. it clearly means more than simply belonging to a gang – otherwise they would have framed the legislation that if you commit a crime and you belong to a gang, there is an enhancement. but there is no tangible framework and this case falls into that gray area, granted leaning on the light side though there is some evidence of gang membership, there is no evience it connects to this crime.

  4. I am no gang expert by any means but isnt it the case that if you are in a gang, your life and everythign you do is about the gang, for the gang, and because of the gang??? Just wondering…..

    • In my experience watching these trials, gangs are not nearly as black and white as that. There are certainly people who are all about the gang and that’s all they do. There seem to be a lot who see it more as a social experience, they may hang out with their friends, they may flash signs and wear colors, but the gang may not be the central feature in their life. This kid for example doesn’t even have any gang tattoos.

  5. justme

    “This kid for example doesn’t even have any gang tattoos.

    Yet….”

    I don’t believe that it is part of our judicial system to utilize “pre crime” as the basis for conviction or gang validation.
    I also share David’s view that the “all or nothing” portrayal of gang affiliation is far too simplistic. Let’s consider any other social grouping. All have very strong adherents for whom the group is central to their life, and those who are much more casual participants. Look at any church congregation. Many people will say that they are part of the congregation, but some will attend services several times a week and participate in church volunteer activities essentially building their life around the church while others may only attend on religious holidays. And yet both consider themselves members of the congregation.

    • If you only attend church occasionally but hang out with regular attendees you probably won’t end up being a principal in a string of robberies or dragging people with your car.

  6. Guilty on all counts…

  7. However, a bit surprised on gang charge….

  8. Oh….too, Tia..

    I didn’t feel anyone purposely tried theatrics.. As humans we are often overwhelmed with emotion and often attorneys may find themselves overcome. It was raw emotion but not intended to dissuade. Obviously jurors used their own logic and reasoning.

    However, to be quite frank, if it were my tail on the line I would expect a good strong fight too as the one witnessed in Ms. fisher. She did one of her best closings ever!

    We can’t help being passionate but do understand the use of self-control in keeping emotion under wraps. The Stone case is more one that may have been a bit over the top with theatrics and may have greatly influenced decisions…but I realize I am not a mind or heart reader….we all dance to the beat of our own drum.

    It’s just my opinion but in emotionally charged cases I’ve seen the best of them experience emotional outburst…never a bad thing to me, maybe to a juror though perhaps….

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