By Leslie Alfonzo
On November 20, 2019, a surveillance video introduced into evidence resulted in a key witness changing his testimony after misidentifying the suspected shooter.
In Department 16, Judge Eric R. Felming presided over the third day of a MS-13 gang related murder trial of defendants Jose Mejia-Carrillo and Alexis Cruz-Zepeda. Appearing for the People was Assistant District Attorney Adam Moldenado. Appearing for the defense was Deputy Public Defender Steve Olmo representing Mr. Mejia-Carrillo and Conflict Counsel George Borges of Law Offices of George Borges representing Mr. Cruz-Zepeda.
Mr. Olmo started the day by finishing his cross-examination of a police officer who was present at the crime scene on March 17, 2017. The officer explained that a crime scene log is documentation of people coming in and out of the frozen crime scene. Mr. Olmo stated that there were three different crimes scene the night of the incident. The officer was asked whether there were three different crime logs or if there was only for one log all three scenes. The officer stated he needed his report to refresh his memory. After the log was shown to the officer, he stated that there were two crime logs the night of the incident. The cell phone crime scene did not have a crime log. Olmo then showed the officer crime scene photos and the officer did not recognize any of the photos – as if he had never been at the crime scene at all. Mr. Olmo ended his cross and the assistant district attorney had no further questions.
The prosecution called their next witness, “Christian,” to the stand. The witness testified that he was with the victim at the time of the shooting and had just met him that night. The witness stated that he and the victim had two friendly interactions inside Beauty Bar on 19th Street and Mission Street. He testified that he and the victim left the bar to go have a smoke. He stated that they were looking around to ask someone for a cigarette and were unable to find anyone. Both the witness and the victim went to his car after the victim stated, “I got something for you.”
The prosecutor played a surveillance video showing the witness and the victim entering his car. Shortly after, a male suspect is seen walking by the witness’s car while he and the victim are inside of the vehicle. The witness testified that he saw a second male suspect walking by the vehicle smoking a cigarette. Despite the many videos, there was not one video that ever showed the faces of the suspects. He testified that he pointed out the suspect with the cigarette to the victim, telling the victim to ask the suspect for a cigarette. The victim then gets out the car and asks the suspect smoking a cigarette for a cigarette. He testified that the suspect answered no and then asked the victim where he was from. The witness stated that the victim said he wasn’t from anywhere and the suspect responded by asking whether the victim was a Norteño.
Mr. Olmo objected to this line of questioning because it was leading. The court overruled this objection, stating that the line was questioning was to establish the government’s theory that it was in fact Mr. Cruz-Zepeda who asked the victim the Norteño question. The witness testified that the victim responded by saying he was not a Norteño and he wasn’t from anywhere. He stated that the suspect with the cigarette answered, “Yes, you are.” The victim was then shot twice in the neck.
The witness repeatedly continued to state that the suspect with the cigarette was the same person who asked the victim if he was a Norteño, and the same person who shot the victim. The deputy public defender stated for the record that he would have on ongoing objection to this line of questioning because an issue will later arise after the prosecutor plays a video for the witness. The court noted the ongoing objection and stated that the court would revisit the issue when it comes up.
The witness stated that the victim was shot twice and the suspect ran away from Beauty Bar after he shot the victim. The winess testified that he crouched down and ran to Beauty Bar when he saw the suspect running the other way. Again, the witness was adamant about the suspect smoking the cigarette being the same person who asked the Norteño question and shot the victim. The prosecutor played a surveillance video for the witness, where it was seen that there is a second suspect who comes up behind the victim and shoots the victim. After viewing this video, the prosecutor asked the witness whether his testimony has changed after viewing the video. The witness stated yes, saying it was not in fact the suspect with the cigarette who shot the victim. He never saw a second suspect the night of the incident. The prosecutor had no further questions.
George Borges, conflict counsel, began his cross-examination. During side bar, Mr. Borges argued that he would prove that the witness was wrong about the shooter and was also wrong about who asked the Norteño question. Now that it has been proved that the witness misidentified the shooter, the court will have to address the issued raised earlier by the deputy public defender. More witnesses are expected to be called on Thursday, November 21, in Department 16 at 9:30 a.m.