by Misha Berman and Tiffany Yeh
On April 14, 2016, in Department 10 in the morning, both Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson and Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequiera presented their closing arguments for the Eric Lovett trial. Before Ms. Johnson and Ms. Sequiera made their closing statements, Judge Maguire told the jury that they are the ones who have to decide what they think happened.
“Don’t be biased, and you must follow laws. Do not research anything about this case,” said Judge Maguire.
Judge Maguire then explained that the same principle of “innocent until proven guilty” applies to Mr. Lovett, even if he was arrested and has been put on trial in the past.
After Judge Maguire explained to the jury how the deliberation process will occur, Ms. Johnson got up to make her closing argument.
“Michael Reyes committed a felony, Mr. Lovett knew he committed a felony and assisted Michael Reyes in evading arrest,” asserted Johnson.
Ms. Johnson explained that on November 18, 2014, “E.S.” rode his bike and was shot by Michael Reyes.
“Lovett was in the car (the car that Mr. Lovett, Michael Reyes and a few other people were in before Michael Reyes got out to confront E.S.) and they (Mr. Lovett and Michael Reyes) are known to be together a lot. They were all found together on the day of the shooting,” said Ms. Johnson.
Johnson then explained how Mr. Lovett was found in a hotel with Mr. Reyes and a few other people later on.
“He was outside but has a key, ‘Ms. H’ who was there at the hotel has a gun hidden in her pants,” described Ms. Johnson.
Johnson then explained the alleged inconsistencies given by the different people who were interviewed, who were at the hotel during the “hotel incident” on November 18, 2014. She explained that “Ms. L” said that Mr. Lovett was not there in the morning, and she had no idea that he was even in the hotel until after he was arrested.
“Which does not coincide with the evidence. [Officer Anthony] Herrera testified he saw him looking around on the balcony. He then disappears back in the room ‘A’ where he was searched and was shown to have a room key for room A,” said Ms. Johnson.
She then explained how Ms. L stated in September of 2015 that she, as well as Mr. Lovett and Mr. Reyes, were all in the car on November 18 when they were pulled over. She then explained that Ms. L stated that Mr. Reyes left the car carrying a gun and then she heard gunshots.
“She opened the door, got out of the car and let Lovett out, which proves he (Mr. Lovett) knew what happened with E.S,” said Ms. Johnson.
Ms. Johnson stated that she thought that Mr. Lovett was searching to see if police were coming, which is why he was looking out when he was on the balcony in the hotel because, she stated, they clearly knew the police were looking for them.
“Mr. Lovett would be a perfect person to look around for police because Ms. L and the other people knew that police were not after him, which is evidence he was assisting in Reyes evading arrest.” Ms. Johnson then began to discuss how Mr. Lovett tried to “dissuade a witness.”
“The evidence that shows this crime is in the video, that’s where you will see the defendant’s movements,” said Ms. Johnson.
Ms. Johnson discussed how E.S. did not want to testify at first in court because he would be seen as a “snitch.” Ms. Johnson then stated that when E.S. decided to testify and was in court to make his testimony, Mr. Lovett made a gesture with his finger that signified he wanted to slit E.S.’s throat for “snitching.”
“The fact that E.S. didn’t see the gesture is not relevant to the charge and it’s a universal obvious sign he was giving with that gesture, which is a threat,” said Ms. Johnson.
Ms. Johnson concluded and told the jury that if they feel he tried to convince the witness to not testify by using this gesture as a threat, then he is guilty of “dissuading a witness.”
It was then Ms. Sequiera’s turn to make her closing argument. She stated that she feels that this case should only have been about the fact that E.S. was shot on November 18, 2014.
“Michael Reyes shot E.S. Facts are clear. On November 18, 2014, Ms. L was driving Reyes to get drugs. She pulled her car over, Reyes gets out. E.S. gets shot. Ms. L drops him off somewhere,” said Ms. Sequiera.
Sequiera stated that Officer Louis Cameron and another officer then drove to the hotel.
“Cameron testified he saw Lovett out on balcony; he said he was not looking for Eric Lovett until he saw him at the parking lot and thought what a coincidence,” said Ms. Sequiera.
She then stated that Officer Cameron and another officer saw Mr. Lovett exit the balcony and walk downstairs, where they confronted him. Ms. Sequiera stressed that Officer Cameron and the other officer pointed out that Mr. Lovett was compliant and they detained him.
“Ms. Johnson’s theory that this is proof that Lovett is an accessory is unfounded and inconsistent to what they testified to before. Eric Lovett was not acting like a lookout because it wouldn’t make sense. It should have ended when Reyes shot E.S. and it would show Sacramento police to be efficient,” asserted Ms. Sequiera.
Sequiera added that Ms. L’s Facebook picture of her car did not come from Facebook. The picture, Ms. Sequiera added, that Officer Herrera and another officer stated was on Ms. L’s Facebook page, was allegedly of the car she was driving when the shooting incident occurred.
“Anthony Herrera and another officer testified they found a picture of Ms. L’s car from Facebook. It might not seem like a big deal but it shows a reckless disregard for what happened. They couldn’t find the picture on Facebook because, when they were asked to find picture, it was not there,” explained Sequiera.
Sequiera added that Officer Herrera and the other officers didn’t get any testimony from E.S., the victim in the shooting incident. She stated that Officer Herrera and the other officers just arrested Mr. Lovett and the other people there and gave them “gang enhancements.”
“E.S. was qualified as an expert witness, he says it was not gang related and [was] a personal thing between him and Reyes, despite Herrera trying to prove it was gang related,” Sequiera asserted.
Ms. Sequiera then went on and said that they didn’t have any proof that Mr. Lovett was at the hotel, because there was nothing in the room that was his. She then stressed that this is what Ms. L said about her not knowing he was there. According to Ms. Sequiera, the only thing that was there that could possibly be evidence that Mr. Lovett was in hotel was an “EBT card.”
Ms. Sequiera stated the prosecution could have done a DNA test on the card to see if it matched Mr. Lovett, but they never did. She then stated that E.S. didn’t need to testify that he was shot by Mr. Reyes because anyone could have testified, due to what she called a “body warrant.”
“Lovett knew that evidence against him for charge 32 was weak. E.S. said no one wanted to snitch, not due to a gang case, and he is not intimidated by “young punks.” He didn’t see Lovett make a gesture and he if he did he would have been pissed not scared – he is older, has had more convictions,” Ms. Sequiera said.
Sequiera then pointed out that she found it hard to believe that Officer Herrera didn’t tell Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor about the gesture he allegedly saw Mr. Lovett make, when E.S was testifying, because he was so shocked.
“Really, this is shocking for someone who has been a police officer for 8 years,” Sequeira stated.
Judge Maguire then called for recess, and closing arguments would resume that afternoon.
by Tiffany Yeh
Deputy Public Defender Sequeira continued her closing arguments as court reconvened after the lunch break. She stated that 95 percent of the expert testimony came from Officer Anthony Herrera, and thus she primarily attacked Officer Herrera’s credibility. She berated his “conscious disregard for the truth.”
DPD Sequeira stated that the gang enhancement portion included limited purpose evidence presented to the jurors, for providing certain things to the argument and not for the truth of the matter. She stated that if unbelievable, unreasonable claims were made by the prosecution that were unsupported by evidence, then the jurors can disregard it.
She expressed that the jurors needed to find the intent, purpose, knowledge and motive to commit the crime’s charge in order to find Mr. Lovett guilty of the charge.
Her zeal for this case, and perhaps for her profession, came through dramatically through these particular words she expressed: “This is my client’s life, it’s not a joke!”
Ms. Sequeira’s contempt for Officer Herrera was evidenced by her numerous criticisms of his actions on the job. She questioned whether Officer Herrera had the authority to ask Liberty Landowski (Ms. L) questions about Mr. Lovett while they were filling out her gang registration form.
Sequeira pointed out that Herrera wrote that Liberty Landowski was convicted of Penal Code sections 186.22(a) and 186.22(b) charges. Sequeira said that Ms. Landowski was only convicted of the 186.22(b) gang enhancement charge, and not of 186.22(a), which states that the person is an active participation of the criminal street gang.
According to her, people can be convicted of a gang enhancement without being an active participant in a criminal street gang.
At one point, DPD Sequeira criticized the failure of prior attorneys in a different case to catch certain lies made by Officer Herrera.
Particularly, she questioned whether Herrera did magically “remember” his interview with Liberty Landowski at the police department, where she allegedly talked about Mr. Lovett’s involvement during the incident in which the victim was shot.
She stated that the interview with Ms. Landowski was something that was “too important to forget,” and that it was something that discounts Officer Herrera’s theory during a different trial regarding the same incident (referring to the shooting of the victim.)
She mentioned time and time again that “Herrera had many opportunities to tell the truth, but he chose not to.”
Sequeira discounted (her interpretation of) DDA Johnson’s theories, stating that there was no way that Mr. Lovett could have been dissuading Ernie Sotelo (E.S.) from testifying during the preliminary hearing by making gestures (the finger across the neck motions).
DPD Sequeira’s interpretation was that Mr. Sotelo was already testifying at the moment, and that Mr. Lovett’s gestures could not keep Mr. Sotelo from continuing to testify at the time. She stated that Lovett’s gestures could be a distraction to Sotelo, but not an attempt to dissuade the witness.
She stated that Mr. Sotelo was already shot; the shooter had already shot the victim and the crime had already been committed when Mr. Lovett was found at the parking lot of La Quinta Inn. The law, as charged, does not punish people for aiding others to avoid being arrested.
Essentially, DPD Sequeira’s argument was that the charges do not align to what Mr. Lovett allegedly has done on prior dates.
DDA Johnson’s Rebuttal Argument
Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson began her rebuttal closing statement, keying in on DPD Sequeira’s dislike of Officer Anthony Herrera. She pointed out that DPD Sequeira never referred to Mr. Herrera as “Detective Herrera.”
DDA Johnson seemed to be implying that DPD Sequeira was downgrading Herrera’s job position in some way by not referring to him as a detective.
To Johnson, there seemed to be a big distinction between Sequeira referring to Herrera as “Mr. Herrera” or “Officer Herrera,” versus DDA Johnson’s calling him by the title of “Detective Herrera.”
Closing arguments often have a theatrical element. While DPD Sequeira spoke with conviction, markedly raising her voices at some points, DDA Johnson spoke in a softer voice. The contrast was real—and perhaps a choice by DDA Johnson to portray herself as the friendly, less aggressive attorney, compared to Sequeira.
Johnson stated that DPD Sequeira’s demeanor and tone throughout the trial took away from the facts of the case. She cited defense’s accusations that Detective Herrera was lying about many things and, therefore, he could not be trusted.
DDA Johnson stated that, contrary to defense’s argument that the prosecution had not tested things they should have from evidence they had, the prosecution did make an effort to do so. She cited the investigation about who checked out the card keys for the room at the La Quinta.
Johnson attributed Detective Herrera’s mistake about the identity of a Mr. Badizon at a house where he and Mr. Lovett were found. A compound question was asked to Detective Herrera, thus causing him to answer incorrectly. Apparently Mr. Herrera incorrectly identified which Badizon brother that Lovett was with at the house (Adam Badizon versus Vincent Badizon).
DDA Johnson pointed out that both Badizon brothers, and some other people that Mr. Lovett hangs out with, are also Broderick Boys, a street gang that Mr. Lovett is alleged to have been benefiting with his actions in the case.
She further stated that the prosecution needed the testimony of Ernie Sotelo (the victim) during this trial. Mr. Sotelo had testified at the earlier preliminary hearing and acted as a gang expert during this current trial.
She stated that Ms. Sequeira was combining two events into one event during multiple points of her argument. Detective Herrera testified about handcuffs and chain, and in a separate event, spoke to DDA Amanda Zambor about what he (Detective Herrera) saw at the preliminary hearing.
Johnson also made the argument that Ernie Sotelo (the victim during the event) was afraid of gang retaliation toward his family members because he was testifying. DDA Johnson stated that Mr. Sotelo was the victim of retaliatory violence from other gang members a couple of times.
She further argued that Mr. Lovett’s specific intent was to help Mr. Reyes avoid getting arrested, and therefore, Mr. Reyes would stay out of custody. The prosecution argued that, by helping Mr. Reyes stay out of custody, it benefits the Broderick Boys.
She memorably described Mr. Lovett as a “walking billboard for the Broderick Boys,” and that his looks, Facebook posts, and conversations with Mr. Reyes are enough to get him convicted of the gang enhancements. He assisted Mr. Reyes, by acting as a lookout at La Quinta’s parking lot, and also attempted to dissuade Mr. Sotelo (the victim) from testifying in a prior preliminary hearing.
Sequeira made objections throughout Johnson’s rebuttal; at least four objections were made by her during the rebuttal. Johnson seemed almost to expect this kind of fervent demeanor from Sequeira, and she paused at moments to begin speaking again. Who knows, maybe the jurors took notice of these interactions, and sidebars with the two attorneys, during the rebuttal argument.
At moments, the closing arguments from both sides seemed to share a common element—the desire of each attorney to get the jurors to see Lovett’s actions and story from their own respective sides, and to like either the defense or the prosecution more than the opposing counsel.
At one point, Sequeira described that other people sometimes view her as an aggressive attorney. Johnson, with her comparatively less aggressive tone and almost aloof manner at moments, played the foil to Sequeira’s adamant, strong-willed objections and words.
The case is in the twelve jurors’ hands. Will they side more toward the defense or the prosecution’s interpretation of the charges and gang enhancements? The two sides argued that the law in the jury instructions could be interpreted differently—from which angle will the jurors view the charges?