By Misha Berman
“Alex Hernandez and Joel Moreno did not directly stab the victim but they can be convicted for aiding and abetting,” said Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor during her closing statement in the trial of Defendants Alex David Hernandez and Joel Panisoan Moreno, Jr., in Department 13 on May 13, 2016. A third co-defendant, Abraham Joseph Hernandez, Jr., made a plea agreement with the prosecution.
Ms. Zambor first explained the different counts both defendants are charged with. She started with Counts 1 and 2. According to her, Count 1 is “assault with a deadly weapon directly and probably resulting in application of force,” and Count 2 is that the “act was willful.” Ms. Zambor went on to explain that the defendants meant to use their car to hit the other car.
“Everybody knows that when you drive a car, an act of force will happen.” Ms. Zambor
Ms. Zambor talked about how the fact that the car that Mr. Moreno and Mr. Hernandez were in was speeding and “tailgating” the victim’s indicates that their hitting the car was not an accident. She then added that the fact they were speeding and tailgating showed that Mr. Hernandez and Mr. Moreno were trying to scare their victims.
Ms. Zambor then asked if Mr. Hernandez helped aid in this crime. She concluded that he did, based on evidence which according to her is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“He was one of the people that said ‘let’s go get them’ and ‘get out of the car’ and ‘let’s fight’ to the other people in the car. He was aiding both by his action and words,” declared Ms. Zambor.
According to Ms. Zambor, despite the fact that neither Alex Hernandez nor Joel Moreno stabbed Daniel Chavez, they can still be held for helping Abraham Hernandez (the person who stabbed Daniel Chavez) commit the crime.
“Abraham Hernandez and Daniel Chavez said all three got out of the car, the only difference is that when they went to court they said Joel Moreno did not get out of the car. Why change the story?” asked Zambor.
DDA Zambor stated that she believed they all changed the story because of the “fear of retaliation.” She then stated that she believes they all got out of the car.
Zambor then brought up Counts 4 through 7, which are about trying to prove that the defendant was trying to get the witness from reporting the crime.
“Were ‘N.G,’ ‘M.B,’ ‘J.R,’ and ‘J.S’ witnesses or victims? ‘D’ (referring to Alex Hernandez) chased them back into the apartment and continued to bang and kick the doors. Yelling and screaming to come back and fight,” said Zambor.
According to DDA Zambor, a few of the witnesses said that Mr. Moreno was back by the car, but Mr. Hernandez said he (Moreno) was at the parking lot just standing around. Ms. Zambor then added that, just because Moreno did not directly participate in chasing the witnesses down and banging on their doors, telling them to come out and fight, does not mean he is not guilty.
“He (Mr. Moreno) was a lookout for if the police would come or if victims came out and decided to fight,” declared Zambor.
Ms. Zambor then went on and discussed the glass bottle that Mr. Hernandez allegedly swung at the victim.
“Did Alex swing the bottle? Was the bottle a deadly weapon? A bottle that is a gallon heavy can cause injury. For this Alex should be convicted of simple assault, for assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury,” stated Ms. Zambor.
Zambor continued, discussing Counts 8-12, which were all the gang charges.
“This isn’t a group of guys drinking beer and not doing criminal activity, but gang members committing crimes,” said Zambor.
She then added how Officer Anthony Herrera, a West Sacramento Police Department detective and also a expert witness for this case, pointed out that Mr. Moreno and Mr. Hernandez were classified as “active” gang members.
Ms. Zambor stated that the evidence Officer Herrera used to make the conclusion that in this crime Mr. Herrera and Mr. Moreno were “active” gang members was based on the fact they were wearing the color red, the observance of different hand gestures they made, the fact they were committing crimes with other people who were known gang members, and the fact they were in constant communication with people who were known gang members.
Ms. Zambor then talked about motivation and how she said that these types of crimes help to “promote” the gang by raising fear in the community so that other gangs will be intimidated from going into their area, and victims who were at the wrong place at the wrong time when crimes occur will be too scared to report what occurred.
“You have heard all the evidence, you have all the 911 calls, all the exhibits, listen to the testimonies again, look at everything together and, after you do, say guilty,” declared Zambor.
Ms. Zambor then stepped down and Defense Attorney John Brennan, representing Alex Hernandez, took the floor. He started out by saying in his closing statement that this has been a long and complex trial.
Mr. Brennan then went over Counts 1 and 2, which were about “aiding and abetting” in a crime. He pointed out that the car that Mr. Moreno and Mr. Hernandez were in was a big car, much bigger than the car that was hit. He pointed out if a car that big hit a little car, like the one that was hit, intentionally, as the prosecution claimed had occurred, there would be more significant damage than a little dent, which is what was found on the right side of the passenger’s side of the car according to Mr. Brennan.
“You have to follow the law but you don’t have to leave common sense behind,” asserted Mr. Brennan.
Brennan then pointed out that two witnesses said they never saw a bottle. Mr. Brennan also pointed out that there were no DNA tests done on the bottle.
“Brandon (a witness) got arrested because he didn’t show up to court – he said it’s because he keeps missing work and can’t miss work, which was interpreted as fear,” said Brennan.
Mr. Brennan also questioned whether Hernandez’s action in lifting his shirt to show off his tattoos was really a threat, and he added that the glass bottle that was allegedly used had a palm print on it. Brennan then said that it is hard to break glass with one’s palms.
Brennan told the jury that Mr. Hernandez will be guilty for a lot of crimes based on “natural and probable causes,” but the one thing he won’t be guilty of is trying to get a witness not to testify.
Defense Attorney Christopher Parkhurst, representing Joel Moreno, began his closing by stating that Abraham (Abe) Hernandez is a person who is very intimidating – “scary” was the word he used. He also added that Abe Hernandez is a person who doesn’t feel bad about what he does and isn’t very good at controlling his impulses.
“Daniel Chavez threw a bottle. Why he lied that it was a coke bottle and not a beer bottle? Not sure. Joel Moreno’s fingerprints were found on the Expedition after the cars collided. Not found on Brayam’s (a witness’) Honda,” said Mr. Parkhurst.
Parkhurst then asked the jurors if it is possible that Brayam could have triggered the whole event that led to the cars colliding.
“What if Brayam flipped the bird? Normally you would ignore it, but there is road rage and they have a history of conflict,” suggested Parkhurst.
Mr. Parkhurst then asked the jurors if they thought it could be possible that the collision was an accident. He then added that maybe Daniel Chavez threw the bottle because Moreno and Hernandez were in his “territory” but it accidentally hit Abe Hernandez.
“He (Abe) gets mad then chases Daniel. We remember he (Abe) was bleeding. The prosecution said ‘M’ was scared but he said that Joel apologized through screen door. Were they scared to testify?” asked Parkhurst.
After Mr. Parkhurst asked jurors whether the victims of this crime were afraid to testify in court, he then went on to explain that Brayam’s brother didn’t testify because he did not want to miss work.
“When he misses work their family doesn’t eat. Out of the three, Abe was the one the DA struck a deal with. The boys were there to fight, they didn’t chase anyone in the apartment,” said Mr. Parkhurst.
Parkhurst then added that somebody testified that they were not scared. He suggested to the jury that they should read all the testimony again.
“How do you know Abe didn’t start the fight? Joel Moreno should not be lumped with Abe just because he got into a fight in jail. How many did Abe get into? Don’t punish Joel and Alex for who Abe is,” said Parkhurst.
Parkhurst then added that Moreno broke up the fight and apologized to the residents. He then asked the jury if this is how gang members normally behaved.
“Detective Herrera relies on anecdotal information as a gang cop and so has a bias. Evidence that’s not subject to being biased, CSI – no dents was noted on the passenger or driver’s side door of the Honda,” asserted Parkhurst.
Parkhurst then told the jury they have to decide whether Moreno is a gang member, but he thinks that they should say that Moreno is not guilty.
Ms. Zambor then got up and stated that she did look at Mr. Moreno and Mr. Hernandez individually, without saying they were the same as Abe Hernandez.
“You have to look at the totality of everything and see evidence and context. Ramming was intentional. Look at the damage to the car,” said Ms. Zambor.
Zambor then stated that she agrees that Abe Hernandez was “no angel” and is part of a gang, but he was still was being consistent when he testified and his testimony matched what witnesses stated in their testimony. She admitted that Abe Hernandez did have a deal.
“Yes he got a deal but he was going to face 10 years in prison and it wasn’t an automatic deal that if he said something he would get this deal if he testified,” claimed Zambor.
Zambor then stated that Abe Hernandez at first was scared to testify because of the consequences, such as being assaulted or murdered by other gang members for “snitching.”
“Joel assaulted him in prison, so it wasn’t just some random fight,” said Zambor.
Ms. Zambor then stated that the jury needs to see the context behind all the events.
“Mr. Parker uses football, I use baseball – everyone in baseball has a different role but the same goal. The referee who was attacked by the football players, the goal was not to attack the referee. Alex and Joel had a common goal and all had a role and I ask you to say guilty,” declared Ms. Zambor.