By Nahima Shaffer
In Department 11 on April 10, 2018, the trial of Justin Edward Murray began. The Honorable Timothy L. Fall delivered his pre-instructions to the jury, along with the alleged counts and date of the offenses. The charges brought against Mr. Murray were one count of burglary in the second degree and one count of vandalism, to both of which he plead not guilty.
Deputy District Attorney Michael J. Vroman began his opening statement by reciting some basic facts about the incident, asserting it would become clear through the evidence that the defendant was in fact guilty. Mr. Vroman detailed that on April 27, 2017, at the La Buena Vida condominium complex, a resident saw a woman in white Cadillac that she had never seen before in the neighborhood, driving slowly through the complex. Minutes later, the resident heard a loud noise coming from her neighbor’s laundry room, which she thought was suspicious since she knew one tenant was at work and that the other unit in that building was vacant.
Mr. Vroman further detailed that the woman saw a white man of thin build, approximately 5’8 and carrying an object to his side wrapped in a grey sweatshirt. The man was alleged to have later been seen leaving the complex in the same vehicle and with the same female driver.
The prosecution closed, highlighting that on April 9, 2017, the defendant had been found in a Sacramento apartment complex laundry room trying to pry coins out of a laundry machine. Moreover, on October 11 of that same year, Sacramento PD had contacted him, in the same white Cadillac in which they found various hardware tools.
The opening statement for the defense was given by Deputy Public Defender Jose Gonzalez-Vasquez. He advanced that he did not want to get into so much of the facts of the case as that the case came down to a vandalism that happened at the La Buena Vida apartments. However, he did caution the jury to pay attention to the circumstances and the things the witness would have to say when she identified Mr. Murray from the photo lineup – and the defense asserted that at the end of the case there would not be evidence that proves that it was indeed Mr. Murray.
The prosecution called to the stand the witness from the apartment complex. The witness’ questioning took up most of the trial time, when compared with others called to the stand later.
The prosecution, in questioning the witness, helped established that on April 27, 2017, the witness made three calls to 911 between 3-4pm, confirming much of the story presented in their opening statements.
The witness, having been a resident of the complex for nearly eight years, saw a suspicious woman driving slowly in a vehicle she did not recognize, which she proceeded to photograph. The car, from Mr. Murray’s past interactions with law enforcement, matched the description and license plate of the car in this case. The witness then heard approximately five minutes later a loud noise emerging from the adjacent units’ laundromat.
The witness explained that each tenant is given a key to their assigned laundry room, so that anyone not a tenant and not assigned to that specific laundry room cannot enter it peacefully.
Upon hearing the noise, the witness followed a person, whom she alleged to be Mr. Murray as he walked briskly through the condominiums.
Finally, due to the sunny day, she claimed to have only seen a shadow of what she deemed to be Mr. Murray possibly entering the vehicle, ducking and driving off with that same woman in the Cadillac.
The defense questioned the witness about her ability to identify the suspect as Mr. Murray, even though she had never seen his face, and also why she did not say anything upon following the suspect while he exited the laundry room.
The witness explained that she identified him because she saw his profile and build.
The defense and the prosecution both went over the witness’ identification of the suspect in the photographic lineup in great detail. Notably was the question of whether the witness had been made aware of or took into consideration the fact that photos may be taken at different relative distances and that the hair of suspects may change over time, both of which she stated to have known and considered.
The witness also noted having seen no damage to the laundry room, only to the dryer where the coin container was. She also was able to confirm that she spoke to an officer on the phone and another officer came to collect the evidence. However, this was another point of contention as the witness could not seem to recall the sex of the officer she spoke to and saw in person.
The court then went into a 15-minute recess.
After recess, the prosecution called the Davis police officer to the stand that had arrived to collect the evidence.
Through prosecutor questioning and cross-examination, the question of whether the original witness was informed about the length at which the photos for identification are taken and the possible hair changed was brought up again.
The officer explained that, although she had not explicitly reiterated that to the witness, it was in the packet the witness signed.
The cross-examination further brought up how the Davis Police Department accessed the photo of Mr. Murray, and the criteria under which he was selected to be in the lineup based on physicalities and his license plate. The deputy public defender also asked if the witness had explicitly told the officer that she had not seen the suspect’s face, and if she was reminded that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup, to which she responded yes. The cross-examination also questioned as to why no fingerprints were taken from the scene.
After no further questions, the prosecution called a Sacramento police officer to the stand.
The second officer explained further in detail the incident of April 9, 2017, in which at 4:30 am at a north end apartment complex in Sacramento he went in with his partner and saw that Mr. Murray had burglarized a laundry room. The officer detailed the extensive damage to the door and the coin area of the dryer.
The second officer was not cross-examined, and a third officer was called to the stand by the prosecution, merely detailing contact with Mr. Murray while the defendant was in the white Cadillac – which the officer then released to Mr. Murray’s female friend. The defense proceeded to ensure that this was the first time the officer saw Mr. Murray again since the incident.
Lastly, the prosecution called to the stand a fourth officer from the Sacramento Police Department, who had been in the force just under a year.
The officer detailed how he and his partner responded to a call October 11, 2017, by ampm employees because Mr. Murray was refusing to leave the store parking lot.
Upon encountering Mr. Murray, the officer saw the same white Cadillac, dirty with a punched in spot, and full of tools such as three large crowbars, bolt cutters, and multiple pairs of pliers.
During the contact, Mr. Murray had asserted that the car was his father’s, but he could drive it whenever he needed to. Murray also appeared to be sleeping, or was at least lying back, resting, at the time of the contact.
Furthermore, the officer saw that the ignition seemed to be punched in, but the officer did not call dispatch or make any attempt to see if the vehicle was stolen, about which the defense questioned him on during the cross-examination. The officer offered that he had presumably left before doing so.
There were no further witnesses, and the jurors were ordered to return in the afternoon at 2 pm for closing arguments.