By Nahima Shaffer
Closing arguments were delivered on the morning of Wednesday, May 9, in the People’s case against Christian Rizo.
After Judge Janene Beronio read the jury their instructions, Deputy District Attorney Jay Linden proceeded with his argument.
Through the assistance of a PowerPoint, he began by reminding the jury the five substantive counts at hand: murder, attempted murder, possession of a firearm while barred from it, possession of a firearm in relation to gang activity and, lastly, furthering gang activity.
He then pointed to what he called the tools of the jury, very similar to the way he had structured his opening statement. He reminded them that they have three things they can rely on to make a decision: the facts, the law, and their common sense.
He then began to unpack the facts of the case one last time. He reminded the jury that they knew that on or about June 29, 2016, Adrianna Pena, Neil Savala, and Christian Rizo left the parking lot where they were seen on video surveillance and drove down Community Lane where Arnulfo “Happy” Bermudez was murdered.
Mr. Linden went on to discuss the points of corroboration of the case. A witness statement identified Pena and the defendant and there were multiple points of observation that showed Rizo was in the area right before the shooting.
An officer’s testimony also showed that the time leaving the parking lot and coming back corresponded precisely to the time of the crime.
A witness saw a dark-colored four-door car pull up, and three other witnesses corroborated the fact that the car drove by and stopped slightly past Happy’s vehicle.
Mr. Linden also reminded the jury that they knew the shooter came from the passenger seat of the vehicle of the dark four-door car. Two witnesses had testified seeing Mr. Rizo come out of the car.
Moreover, Ms. Pena identified the passenger as Mr. Rizo.
Mr. Linden also brought up the concept “karma” again, a reoccurring theme in this case. He reminded the jury that the next day, Ms. Pena was crying and upset, telling Mr. Rizo that karma would get back to them for what they’ve done. Mr. Rizo was emotional as well, in regard to his son.
Mr. Linden moved on to argue how another suspect for the case was ruled out. The suspect had first been identified by the passenger of Happy’s vehicle. However, seeing as his best friend just got shot, he was in a state of panic and shock. The same witness believed the potential suspect was getting away in a car that did not end up being connected to the murder, nor was he the individual running into his apartment after the shooting.
Ultimately, Mr. Linden explained that even though this potential subject had at first taken credit for the crime, he later retracted and was not even in the area at the time.
On the allegations of the love triangle involving Happy Bermudez and the passenger of his vehicle, Mr. Linden advanced that, if anything, Happy would be the one to have a reason to cause disruption to the other witness because he would be the one getting cheated on.
The prosecution now moved into the second phase of its argument, asking the jury to utilize their second tool: the law.
In this portion, Mr. Linden highlighted different relevant elements of the jury instructions.
First, he detailed the notions of expressed and implied malice as it relates to the deliberate intention to unlawfully take the life of another human being.
Then he moved into first- and second-degree murder instructions, noting that Mr. Rizo had willfully, deliberately and premeditatedly killed Happy Bermudez. Mr. Linden pointed to Rizo’s gangster rap lyrics, and the video of him firing up a gun and throwing gang signs which occurred four months before the shooting.
He wrapped up this portion by reminding the jury of the different gang enhancement charges at hand and the question of the shotgun.
Mr. Linden pointed out that since no one could be seen on tape in any of the parking lot footage handing any occupants of the car a weapon, the shotgun had had to have been there beforehand.
He also drew attention to the alleged cut on Mr. Rizo’s head, reminding the jury of Rizo admitting to it when he said: “that’s what happens when you shoot a shotgun like a sniper.”
Before concluding, Mr. Linden spent some time attempting to discredit Ms. Pena’s credibility, yet overall underlying that she did admit to being the driver without any pushback.
He concluded that with the tools of the facts, the law, and the jury’s common sense they would find Mr. Rizo guilty of the charges being brought against him.
Mr. J. Toney, for the defense, proceeded to deliver his somewhat less structured closing argument. His argument mostly relied on giving the jury a hypothetical scenario of the other suspect being the perpetrator of this crime and highlighting the hollow nature of the prosecution’s corroborating witnesses.
He reminded the jury that two witnesses confessed to directly seeing that suspect at the scene of the crime.
Moreover, Mr. Toney attempted to show the flaws in the prosecution’s argument by showcasing how they simultaneously tried to discredit Ms. Pena and Mr. Savala in key points of their corroboration argument, yet at the same time expected the jury to believe parts of their story when it’s convenient.
He highlighted that Mr. Linden’s argument seamlessly went from Ms. Pena lying to, when it fits their case, she’s suddenly telling the truth.
The defense also argued that Ms. Pena and Mr. Savala were testifying for their own benefit and underscored the power of the prosecution.
He advanced the following: “The government has the immense power to buy testimony with far greater currency than cash, freedom.” He further highlighted that no one saw Mr. Rizo at the scene of the crime and that the only two that corroborate that it’s him are the two receiving possible reduced penalties, Ms. Pena and Mr. Savala, who also had ample thinking time while in custody to possibly fabricate allegations against Mr. Rizo.
Moreover, Mr. Toney highlighted that someone who had the intent to commit the crime would not have instructed Ms. Pena that it wasn’t supposed to happen that way and not to talk about it.
Overall, his argument relied on pointing the finger to the other potential suspects, not only the one the prosecution dismissed but also potentially Mr. Savala, and on the power of the district attorney’s office.
Mr. Linden offered a rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument, essentially refuting all claims of it being the other suspect, asserting again that this suspect had both retracted claims to the crime and was not in the area at the time.
On the subject of the power of his office, Mr. Linden reminded the jury that Ms. Pena admitted voluntarily to being the driver of the car. Overall he pointed back to the facts of the case to show how the defense was describing an argument that he was not making, and proceeding to deny that argument as if to prove somehow that the prosecution was wrong on a case they never made.
Jury deliberations began that same afternoon, following the lunch recess.