By Nancy Martinez
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – In the early hours of the morning of June 28, 2019, a man returned to Sacramento from his job in Oakland and was fatally shot in the back of the head at a Sacramento residence, and later left near a local hospital where his body would be found inside an SUV, according to the Sacramento County District Attorney here.
Tyler Smith and Zachariah Spence, co-defendants being charged with the felony murder of Scott Chase, were found most likely guilty at a just-completed preliminary hearing in Sacramento County Superior Court, and will be arraigned Thursday.
During the first part of the preliminary hearing that took place a few weeks ago, a witness testified about text messages between the two defendants. These conversations were able to confirm that there was a cordial relationship between the defendants and the victim—other witnesses also testified about the confrontation that led to the shooting of the victim.
According to the initial homicide investigation, said Deputy District Attorney Brad Ng, the victim had been temporarily residing at Spence’s residence. From the messages between the co-defendants, it was determined that there had been a robbery in which defendant Spence had items stolen from his home. Acquaintances informed Spence that it had been the victim, Chase, who had stolen the items, according to information at the preliminary hearing.
Phone records from Spence’s phone obtained by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Dept. suggested that, on the days leading up to the victim’s death, Spence was going to try to retrieve his stolen items from the victim.
And, on the morning of June 28, the victim arrived at Spence’s residence and apparently was confronted by defendant Smith, according to Ng, explaining that previous witnesses testified that Spence was asleep while the two individuals, Smith and Chase, confronted each other.
According to the witnesses, there was a struggle between the two and then a gunshot was heard. When the witnesses went to check on what had happened, they found Smith appearing very shocked, standing near the victim’s body. An additional gun was reported to have been next to the victim’s hand.
Hours after the shooting, the prosecution maintains, the defendants moved the victim’s body in a green Ford Explorer that was left in the Carmichael neighborhood near Mercy San Juan Hospital. When sheriff’s deputies got to the location of a 911 call shortly after 6 a.m. they found a green Ford Explorer parked crookedly. The engine was reportedly still running, investigators said, and a man with signs of trauma was found inside
DDA Ng said Spence drove the vehicle to the area, left the victim’s body and fled the scene.
Defendant Smith’s conflict counsel, Jessica Graves, insisted—after cross-examination of sheriff deputies—that in the messages between Smith and Spence, there were no indications that either defendant was attempting to reach the victim and lure him to the residence.
Sheriff’s detectives also testified that they never received phone records or saw text messages between the witnesses and Smith, where he allegedly spoke about the victim. None of the homicide detectives did any follow up to retrieve additional text messages from Smith’s phone that may have spoken about the guns involved in the confrontation.
During the cross-examination of a prosecution witness, Spence’s counsel, Sacramento County Assistant Public Defender Allison Williams, discovered that detectives never interacted with Spence’s phone, and found no link between Spence and the victim on the extensive phone records.
However, DDA Ng argued that the shooting of the victim was an act of felony murder, which does not require an intent to kill. Ng also said a robbery charge is adequate because the victim’s phone and wallet were not located on his body or his vehicle but were accounted for before the victim had arrived at the residence.
The DDA also noted that, although there was no evidence showing an intent to kill, the defendants planned to confront the victim to retrieve their items with a weapon, thus their actions warrant the felony murder charge.
He said that “although the defendant [Spence] was sleeping, his liability of the felony murder charge remains because he was aware that there was a planned confrontation with victim.” The DA said a jury will have to make the determination of whether the special circumstance of Lie and Wait under the felony charge applies to the defendants.
Defense Counsel Graves argued that, because the witnesses had testified to a gun next to the victim’s hand in addition to the witnesses also testifying to the shocked look on Smith’s face moments after the gunshot, the evidence points to this being “an accidental shooting in an act of self-defense.”
She said the defendants were simply looking for the victim to determine if he would attempt to steal from the residence again. They were concerned the victim was dangerously armed because he had stolen a safe with two guns inside. In addition, she said, the evidence does not show that the defendants knew victim Chase was returning to the residence that night.
The victim was set to arrive at another residence and be picked up from that residence by his mother the following morning. According to the defense, there was no evidence of intent to kill—however, there was evidence of the defendant’s intent to keep the victim away from the residence in order to “protect his home.”
Smith’s defense continued to argue that there was also no evidence there had been a robbery after the victim was shot, because there is no evidence to suggest that the victim had his cellphone and wallet prior to arriving at the residence.
The defense said Chase’s property “may have fallen out of his pockets” on his way to the residence. The court found this claim by the defense to be far-fetched in comparison to the prosecution’s argument that the defendants stole the items after the shooting.
Graves concluded by stating that, if there had been an intent to kill, the defendants would have not invited potential witnesses to the scene. According to Graves, this was an “unintended scuffle” that led to the accidental shooting of the victim.
Spence’s counsel, Williams, maintained that if the DDA’s argument of Spence getting the gun with the intent to murder the victim, “why was Spence sleeping throughout this confrontation?”
Williams stated that Spence’s behavior of driving the victim to the nearby hospital does not match the reckless indifference of human life required to charge him with murder. She said the DDA would have to prove that Spence acted as a major contributor to the murder, but he failed to establish this because Spence was only protecting his home by getting a gun and had simply invited Smith to accompany him in doing so.
Judge Raoul M. Thorbourne determined that there is insufficient evidence for special circumstances of “Lie and Wait” for the felony murder. But he did hold both defendants to answer to the murder and felony murder theory.
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