by Melissa Sanchez and Danielle Eden C. Silva
Testimony Continues in People V. Rizo
By Melissa Sanchez
Witnesses are still being called to the stand in the Christian Rizo murder trial, which resumed on the morning of May 2 with Judge Janene Beronio presiding.
The first witness of the morning, Adrianna Pena, was called to the stand and sworn in. Pena was the woman who drove the car that allegedly transported the shotgun that killed the victim in this case, Arnulfo “Happy” Bermudez.
Jay Linden began his direct examination with laying the foundation of the defendant’s relationship with Pena. Christian Rizo was a longtime friend of Pena, according to her testimony, and she went on to explain how their relationship was strictly a friendly one.
Linden then turned his attention to Pena and her affiliation with gangs, asking if she has any connections with the Norteños. Pena answered the question with an assertive no, explaining that she did have some friends in gangs but was no affiliated with being in one.
The witness began to recall the events that took place on the night of June 28, 2016, which was the night of the murder. She began explaining how being the older one in her friend group, she would buy Rizo and his friends alcohol and drive them around in her gray four-door 2003 Nissan Maxima.
This night began like a typical night of hanging out with friends, starting in a parking lot of the Four Corners neighborhood around West Cross and Cottonwood Streets, which is notorious to be a center of gang activity.
Pena testified how she met up with Rizo at the parking lot that night sometime before midnight, but Jay Linden proceeded to show tapes from the parking lot that night showing otherwise.
In the tapes, it can be seen that two people exit her vehicle, to which later she said it was probably Rizo exiting her vehicle. Rizo is seen in the video to be exiting the passenger side while Pena exited from the driver’s seat.
At this point it is 30 minutes after midnight, and an individual approaches Pena’s car and enters the vehicle’s backseat. The vehicle then leaves the parking lot.
When initially asked who the individual, at first referred to as “J,” entering her car was, Pena responded with “I don’t know,” despite having already informed the police in a previous testimony that she was aware of who the individual.
Upon leaving the park, she drove on West Lincoln Avenue toward Community Lane in Woodland, and on the drive passed some vehicles where she was then asked to turn back around.
Pena reluctantly turned around, listening to the command that came from one of the passengers in her vehicle at the time. She explained how the vehicles had some people standing by them, and that she heard something being directed to the people in her vehicle.
She was directed to park on the curb opposite to where the vehicles and people were. She was informed that Rizo and “Jose” were going to “check” them out and she was left behind in the car alone as they exited her vehicle.
Rizo and who she was now calling “Alvarez” exited her vehicle with empty hands and leave the back door open from which they exited. She further testified how, while in the car she was listening to rather loud music, and it was then when she heard a single, definite gun shot. She immediately looked to her rear view mirror as a reaction and saw a car crash, which was then revealed to be the victim who crashed.
Rizo and Jose both entered the car saying, “Go!” and Pena drove off as a reaction to the events that took place moments before.
Proceeding in the direct examination, Linden addressed Rizo’s cut on his nose that he speculated could have came from the whiplash of shooting the shotgun. To this, Pena responded that it was a minor cut on his nose that she noticed later that night but was something that she did not pay much attention to.
They fled the scene of the crime and toward the opposite side of Woodland from her home, to step away from the events that just took place. Then Pena, Alvarez and Rizo all made their way back to the parking lot in Four Corners at around 2 am.
It is then where witness “KP,” who was living in his car in that parking lot at the time, is shown in the parking lot video tape. He is shown approaching Pena’s vehicle holding a bundle which seem to be handed to the person sitting in the passenger seat of the car.
The next day, June 29, Rizo and Pena met up and according to her testimony spoke on the subject of karma and how they were all going to get their karma from the event that took place last night. Rizo apologized to her for saying that “he did not mean for it to happen that way.”
Jay Linden then brought forth letters written by Pena for Rizo while he was in custody, which depicted Rizo and Pena. In People’s Exhibit #27 presented by Linden, Pena wrote, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.”
Defense Attorney J. Toney in cross-examination asked about her level of sobriety as she had been drinking, but Pena assured the court she had not been drunk and had little recollection of the night because she has a bad memory.
She went on to explain how she moved to Texas to start anew and it was there where she was interrogated by a Detective G. It was then that she asked to stop the interrogation several times, but despite this the detective continued.
In re-direct examination conducted by Linden, he emphasized how in the preliminary hearing that took place on November 16, 2017, she had testified to having done no wrong in this entire situation. He then went on to counter argue that with the letter dated on October 14, 2017, which was sent to Rizo before the hearing, has a statement along the lines of “we must right out wrongs,” indicating her clear guilt.
The witness was then excused, subjected to recall.
Witness Testifies Defendant Confessed Crime Which Brought Karma
By Danielle Eden C. Silva
Department 10 reconvened the Christian Rizo trial that afternoon with the final witness of the day, Evan Savala. He appeared in custody and on the stand with his attorney, Richard Lansburgh.
Mr. Savala shared he was in custody for two attempted murders. He had organized a plea deal with the District Attorney’s office where, in providing information on gang members, he would receive a sentence of four years and a strike on his record.
The witness shared he became acquainted with the Woodland Norteños in 2014, being 15 years old at the time. He mostly knew of Vario Bosque Norteños (VBN), a subset of the Norteño prison gang. Mr. Savala shared his knowledge of the gang’s slang and symbols through his observations and what he learned from members, such as the VBN symbols of red and the number 14. When he hung out with the gang, they would usually have alcohol or drugs. A popular place for Norteños to hang out would be the “Four Corners” located in the Cottonwood Street parking lot near Cross Street.
Mr. Savala also defined “homie,” a term reserved for an approved member of the gang. To become a homie, one would need to “put in work” which could include fighting “Southsiders,” or the Sureños, the rival gang of the Norteños. Gang approval was also needed for gang tattoos.
The witness described he was associated with a gang member named “Kiki” who he identified as the defendant, Mr. Rizo. The defendant had become a homie after Savala met him. Kiki apparently had a reputation of being “down,” which Mr. Savala elaborated as always willing to fight. The witness claimed he also saw the defendant with a gun on several occasions.
Several other associates were also described. Mr. Savala had met Adrianna Pena through Kiki. They appeared to be friends, but the witness told the police that they were sexually intimate and he called Ms. Pena “a prostitute.” He also mentioned “JH” who had moved to Woodland from Sacramento.
The prosecution then directed the testimony to the date of the shooting of Arnulfo “Happy” Bermudez. The witness shared he learned about the death from Facebook. He would later talk to the defendant about the incident.
Mr. Savala stated he saw the shotgun involved in the shooting with Kiki before. He identified the model as an older shotgun with a black barrel, wood handle, and red bandana wrapped around it. Mr. Savala also noted that, on the occasion he spoke to Kiki about the incident, Kiki had a scar under his eye. The witness claimed the defendant had said the scar had resulted from holding a shotgun like a sniper, hinting he was hit in the face with it.
Mr. Savala then shared the defendant called his own family misfortune to be a result of karma for killing Mr. Bermudez. The defendant claimed his child was born on the same night as Mr. Bermudez’s death.
The witness and the defendant then discussed the rumor that Izzy Alvarez was involved, and the defendant had stated he would allow the other to take the credit for it.
Going back to weapons, the witness shared that Mr. Rizo had other shotguns, one of the stranger ones being green and black. The murder weapon was not a full-length barrel and was pump action.
In cross-examination, Mr. Savala explained he had been charged with attempted murder with two other people. The defense pointed out with his charge, Mr. Savala could have been convicted of life in prison. Mr. Savala agreed and noted he talked with his attorney and gave information on a large number of gang members, likely over a dozen including Mr. Rizo.
Concerning the Izzy Alvarez rumor, the witness had heard Mr. Alvarez in Esparto affirm the rumor three weeks after Happy’s death.
In cross-examination, Mr. Savala said he didn’t know for certain the injuries to Mr. Rizo’s son or the exact day of the child’s birth.
In redirect, the prosecution clarified that in the case that he is currently convicted of, Mr. Savala is not the main offender. Mr. Savala had only been at the wrong place at the wrong time. In addition, Mr. Savala would have to continue watching his back after the sentence.
Mr. Alvarez later denied to Savala that he killed Happy. The witness also shared that Kiki wasn’t in the car when the shooting happened.
In the final cross-examination, the witness shared that he took the plea deal because he was innocent and did not want to take the risk of a life sentence.
This witness was excused and the court adjourned for the day. The Rizo trial is expected to resume on Friday at 9:30 am in Department 10.
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