by Adrian Lopez and Melissa Sanchez
Officers Take the Stand in Rizo Murder Trial
By Adrian Lopez
On the morning of May 4, several police experts and officers testified in the trial of Christian Rizo, who is charged with murder, possession of a prohibited firearm, carrying a concealed loaded weapon, and street gang activity. The Honorable Janene Beronio was presiding.
First to take the stand was Yolo County Deputy Coroner Nancy Stone, who on the night of June 29, 2016, went to the scene of the crime where the murder Rizo is charged with allegedly took place. She found the victim on his back in the street next to a red Mustang, which had crashed into another car. In the interior of the car was blood spatter and coagulated blood in the driver’s seat, with holes in the back rest as well as shotgun pellets. Ms. Stone noted no evidence of neck trauma or strangulation.
Next to take the stand was Sacramento County Coroner and Chief Forensic Pathologist Jason Tover, who performed the autopsy of the victim on the morning of the alleged incident. Mr. Tover determined the cause of death of the victim to be a shotgun wound sustained to the victim’s back on the mid left side.
Allegedly, he found 11 penetrating injuries into the back caused by shotgun pellet wounds with no exit wounds. The liver, kidneys, and several arteries had ruptured and there was bleeding into the
chest and abdomen. Mr. Tover also determined that there was no trauma to the neck or evidence of strangulation.
Defense counsel questioned Mr. Tover about whether or not, from the characteristics of the injuries on the victim, a direction or angle of fire of the firearm could be determined: Mr. Tover replied it was impossible.
Next to take the stand was an investigator for the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, who allegedly on the day of the incident, June 29, 2016, received a tip from a person who supposedly saw the murder occur. The investigator conducted an audio interview with this person the afternoon of that same day, and this interview was played before the court.
Allegedly, on the night of the incident, this person was hanging out at an apartment complex not far from where the alleged murder took place and claims to have known the victim.
According to this person, the victim and a friend were sitting parked on the side of the street in a red Mustang. A car pulled up behind the Mustang and a person with a red bandana over their face got out of the vehicle from the passenger side and point blank fired a shotgun at the driver. This person would get back into the car on the passenger side and drive off. This person was described as a Hispanic male with a dark long-sleeved shirt and a red bandana covering most of his face; a description of the driver could not be made.
Allegedly, the shotgun was fired at a distance of three to four feet from the victim, who leapt into the air after the shot and fell onto the street. The shooter drove off in what was described as a dark green car with dark-tinted windows.
After the audio interview before the court concluded, the district attorney investigator would leave the stand.
Next to take the stand was a police officer for the Woodland Police Department, who had probable cause to watch and surveil Christian Rizo once he was implicated as a suspect in the alleged murder.
Allegedly, on September 26, 2017, the officer approached Rizo outside an apartment, identifying himself as a police officer, when Rizo fled from him. Allegedly, Rizo was wearing a white T-shirt with a red shirt over his shoulder.
Using GPS tracking, the officer determined Rizo was north of Knights Landing and, in an unmarked patrol car, he entered the general vicinity. At a thoroughfare of Highway 113 and Knights Landing, the officer spotted a four-door car with four males inside, the only vehicle in sight for several hours. Believing Rizo to be in this vehicle, the officer followed it and made a traffic stop: Rizo and three other males were found in the car. Rizo was then arrested.
The testimony of the officer concluded, and the court recessed for lunch.
Expert Witnesses and Detectives Called to the Stand to Explain Gang Involvement in Case
By Melissa Sanchez
Court resumed in session after the lunch break in Department 10 with Judge Janene Beronio presiding for the Christian Rizo murder case. The defense called expert witness, “A.S.,” to the stand to give her testimony as the private investigator hired by Attorney J. Toney.
A.S. began explaining her connection with this case and how she contacted several witnesses from the night of the shooting to help investigate. A very cooperative witness that responded to A.S. was “L.Q.,” who was the girlfriend of victim Arnulfo “Happy” Bermudez and who heard the shots fired that night.
She testified how Neil Silva had been in contact with Happy that very night and that Silva insisted he retrieve a tire from Happy for a bike he had. Upon hearing the shot and crash, L.Q. ran outside and saw Neil with his hands around Bermudez’s neck standing by the driver’s side of the car.
L.Q. ran to the passenger side to release Happy from Silva’s grip, and it was then when Silva frantically began to search the car. She saw him retrieve a firearm from the inside of the vehicle at which time Silva stated, “It was Izzy, I saw his belt buckle.” She proceeded to perform CPR on Happy in hopes of saving him, but upon his last breath he mouthed something inaudible to her and then passed away.
The witness was then excused, subject to recall. This was the defense’s last out-of-order witness.
Next up, Jay Linden for the prosecution called Probation Office S.P. to the stand, who has had previous encounters with the defendant, and has conducted searches of Rizo’s home where he has found gang-related rap lyrics, graffiti, and wardrobe.
He attested how on one occasion he pulled over a vehicle with Evan Savala alongside other gang-affiliated members, and retrieved a cell phone with a video that depicted Christian Rizo shooting a firearm into the sky. In the video he exclaims, “Bosque scrapas” while throwing out a hand sign signaling the letter “b” which is a common hand sign used by Norteños in Woodland.
Mr. Linden turned it over to cross-examination, and Mr. Toney asked if Rizo had reached out to S.P. to see what to do one day when the cops were outside his home. S.P. informed Rizo to stay inside or go to the Woodland Police Department to see if he was being sought after, or if they were in search if his brother instead.
Toney then went on to ask if S.P was aware that Rizo wrote the rap lyrics while in Juvenile Hall, to which she responded no, and stressed how youth these days commonly write lyrics like the ones found in Rizo’s notebooks.
Probation Office S.P. was dismissed, subject to recall.
Up next, the People called the detective on the case, “P.G.,” to the stand, who gave his findings in the case. He addressed his expertise with the Woodland Police Gang Task Force and how he was called on the night of the shooting, which prompted him to be assigned to the case.
P.G. testified how he watched the surveillance video from the night of the murder on 655 Cottonwood Street about 30 plus times and how sure he was that it was Rizo in the video with the long braid, with Jose Epps as the second male individual in the car.
He continued to explain how he interviewed a witness, “K.P.,” from the parking lot and asked him to point out individuals saw that night in the lot, to which he responded by circling a photo of Rizo. K.P. did the same when shown a line up with Jose Epps in it, circled Epps’ photo as one he recognized from that night.
Linden then directed his attention to the interview he had with Adrianna Pena, the driver of the vehicle the night of the shooting. P.G. explained he did not offer any promises of leniency nor did he attack her. He tried to be understanding but Pena rejected his attempts by exclaiming, “You don’t understand!”
P.G. noticed that Pena felt remorse over the shooting, despite initially downplaying her role that night. She wanted to make amends with the Bermudez family and kept repeating how they were only suppose to scare him.
P.G. went onto testify how, upon one his searches of Rizo’s home while he was on probation, he found a shotgun in the defendant’s room, located in his bottom dresser drawer. He also explained Rizo’s tattoos which were gang affiliated, further supporting the argument that Rizo was an active member of the Norteños in Woodland.
The detective ended his testimony with the details of Rizo’s arrest for Happy Ramirez’s murder. Upon reading him the charges being brought, Rizo responded with, “Is that it?’
Court broke for the weekend and will resume Monday, May 7, at 9:30 in Department 10.