By Lauren Zaren
After hours of deliberation, the jury found Isaiah Antonio Muñoz guilty of some of the charges pressed against him. He is a known active member of Woodland’s Varrio Bosque subset of the Norteño gang. Muñoz was charged with assault, a gang enhancement for the assault, gang activity, and battery. However, the jury found the assault by force and a gang enhancement to be “not true.”
Department 11, under Judge Timothy L. Fall, will reconvene at 10am on Friday to discuss bifurcated enhancements related to the case.
Closing Arguments in Gang Case
By Kelsey Stewart
Deputy District Attorney Matthew De Moura began his closing statements with four powerful words: “Power. Violence. Intimidation. Respect,” citing the four core principles of gangs. He argued that physical confrontation is a hallmark for gang members and that both attacks were linked to VBN, Varrio Bosque Norteño, the subset of the Norteños.
Mr. De Moura argued the June 14 attack was linked to VBN by the victim’s brother who was in bad standing in the gang. When loyalty of gang members is called into question, the suspicion spreads to the family. Mr. De Moura argued that Isaiah Muñoz was putting the victim “in his place” by assaulting him and scaring him, and by extension putting his brother back into submission.
The June 23 attack had a more direct link to VBN, according to De Moura. The victim is a Sureño, the opposing gang of the Norteños. The victim posted on social media a disrespectful message to Mr. Muñoz’s late friend, whom he watched die.
In the midst of the attack, Mr. Muñoz shouted “Basce!” which is an exclamation linked to the Norteños. While the correctional officers broke apart the scuffle, he allegedly said, “Bro, it’s just business.”
Mr. De Moura anticipated the defense’s claims of Mr. Muñoz’s PTSD from witnessing his friend pass away and his possible Impulse Control Disorder cited by his therapist who testified in court. Mr. De Moura rebuffed the Impulse Control claim by noting that both victims were minding their own business before being attacked by Mr. Muñoz and performed no concrete behaviors to provoke an attack.
On behalf of the PTSD, De Moura saw no connection between lack of rational thought and PTSD.
It was then turn for J. Toney, a conflict counsel attorney, to take the stand in defense of Mr. Muñoz. He first made a quick quip about “legalese” and how easy it is to get caught up in the jargon. The “legalese” he wanted to focus on for his defense was the topic of specific intent.
Mr. Tony likened the concept of specific intent to writing a check to the state of California for your taxes. Cheating on taxes involves both subconscious and conscious decision making. The conscious choice, the “specific intent,” is to save money by giving less to the state of California. The unconscious thought processes entail what would be the result of those actions, for example how California could be affected by receiving less tax money.
He argued that Mr. Muñoz did not have the specific intent to honor VBN with the two assaults, and any thought of bettering VBN would fall into the unconscious thought process. The intents at the forefront for both assaults were emotional. The first assault on June 13 was the result of annoyance toward an annoying, rambunctious hall mate in juvenile hall. The second assault on June 23 was to make the victim pay for the disrespectful jabs toward his late friend.
He rebuffed that the “Basce!” exclamation was a spur of the moment, emotional outburst and not a hearkening to VBN interests.
Mr. Toney did not try to defend Mr. Muñoz against the counts for assault. He admitted an assault took place, citing the video footage that members of the jury were shown. However, his qualms as the defense for Mr. Muñoz were the enhancements for the gang-related charges. He admitted his client was a member of VBN; however, he did not see a line of connection between the assaults and the gang.
Mr. Toney then asked the jury to look at the case through a “prism of reasonable doubt.” If there are two reasonable choices, he urged them to choose the one that leads to innocence for the defendant.
Mr. De Moura then took the stand for a second time to rebut on behalf of the People. He referenced the check metaphor utilized by Mr. Toney and stated that, if Mr. Muñoz assaulting those two individuals was him writing a check, his “Basce!” exclamation was his endorsement, signaling his specific intent to promote VBN’s interests.
He then referenced Mr. Toney’s claims that his connections between the first assault and VBN were far-fetched. He acknowledged it may seem that way to an outsider but, when taking into account the politics and structure of gangs, it is not that way at all.
The jury was then sent into deliberation.