By Susana Jurado
SACRAMENTO – Over a game of dice, a man was charged with a felony count of murdering his “friend” with a handgun in North Highlands and should stand trial, ruled Judge Ernest W. Sawtelle in Sacramento County Superior Court after a preliminary hearing last Friday.
According to the court, on March 30, at around 1 p.m., the defendant, Damian Todd, shot a man in front of his home, with children playing outside. He then walked to his car and drove off, leaving the victim lying unconscious and unresponsive in the middle of the street.
One of the kids ran inside to get the girlfriend of the victim, and, once she saw him, she ran to him and screamed for help. A neighbor, who heard the sound of the fired gun and saw the defendant leave, called 911 immediately after.
Detectives and police officers were dispatched to the scene, with firefighters rendering the victim medical aid. He did not survive.
After confirming that the person at the scene of the crime was the defendant Todd through multiple witnesses, a search warrant was issued for his residence and a gun was found.
Deputy District Attorney Brad Ng began the preliminary hearing by calling his first witness, John Rodriguez, a homicide detective working for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. He was briefed at the scene by Deputy James Galavitch.
The first witness he spoke to was a neighbor who lived across the street from where the incident happened, who said, “She stated she had heard a popping noise and then she looked out her window and heard the victim yell, ‘You shot me!’ to a gentleman that is walking away from his position.”
The detective confirmed that the witness admitted to seeing the person the victim yelled at and said, “He walked towards her residence, so she saw him from the front and he got into the driver’s seat of a red vehicle and drove away southbound. She said that he casually walked to the vehicle.”
As part of this investigation, the detective interviewed a 4-year-old witness who was on the scene. He was the son of the girlfriend to the victim and lived with both of them at the time.
Detective Rodriguez described the statement of the witness to be vague. The detective recalled the witness telling him that he was outside when the incident happened and admitted that he saw something bad happen.
“He stated that he saw a black male adult with short braided hair, is how he described it, shoot the victim with a black machine gun, is how he described it, and later got into the driver seat and drove away from that area.”
In response to what happened, the witness told the detective, he ran inside to tell his mom that the victim was lying on the ground.
The 4-year-old witness also told the detective that the defendant who left the scene wasn’t alone.
The detective said the witness told him the shooter was the one who drove the vehicle away and he said he saw the person who shot the victim on prior occasions.
Detective Rodriguez stated, “He stated he had seen him over at his cousin’s house prior to that.”
The detective also interviewed the girlfriend of the victim, who saw three men were still inside the garage walking up the driveway, towards the street. She saw the victim was still in the driveway area with the kids before she left to go inside. The detective told the court, “She said she went out there and observed the victim lying in the roadway. She stated she started screaming for help and at that time, I believe the neighbor had come out. She went to the victim to attempt to help him when she realized he had been shot.”
Detective Rodriguez confirmed he found inside a blue storage container, a black 40 caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun at the defendant’s home.
During the cross-examination, Defense Attorney Thomas S. Clinkenbeard questioned the detectives with ways they could have expanded on their investigation.
Defense Attorney Clinkenbeard highlighted to the court that the neighbor witness was unable to see a gun while she was observing the events that were described. She didn’t see any of the events that occurred prior to the shooting. She also wasn’t able to describe how the victim ended up where he was or what led to the shooting.
The defense attorney questioned the reliability of the witness as he reiterated to the court about the vagueness of the 4-year-old witness’s testimony.
SSD Detective Kevin Lawrence described conducting an interview with a 6-year-old witness, the daughter of the girlfriend of the victim, who said she saw a man with long dreads shoot her mother’s boyfriend, the victim. She said he had a red and black car.
“She said that he was with somebody else. She said that the other person went to the passenger of the red and black car,” Detective Lawrence continued, “She told me she had seen the person who shot the victim before at her cousin’s house.”
Defense Attorney Clinkenbeard clarified to the court, “While the six-year old witness was speaking to you, didn’t she tell you, ‘I did not see the gun on the person who shot the victim?’ And in fact, when speaking earlier in your discussion with her, didn’t she tell you she did not actually see the shooting?”
Detective Lawrence answered, “The way that I understood what she was telling me was that she saw the shooter shoot the victim, but during that shooting she wasn’t able to see the gun as it was firing.”
The defense attorney highlighted how some significant parts to her story were missing, such as where she was at the time of the shooting, what drew her attention to the men outside, and what those three men were doing or what was said prior to the shooting.
Then, the deputy district attorney directed his questioning again to the witness, asking if him and his fellow detectives had located the third man on scene, the passenger in the runaway vehicle.
Detective Lawrence confirmed that the detectives have been unsuccessful in locating him to interview him on what happened.
Deputy District Attorney Ng called the last witness, homicide detective Nick Sareeram from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
Detective Sareeram affirmed that there was a corresponding gunshot exit wound that was on the victim’s back with blood coming from that wound. When processing the scene, a spent shell casing, a 40 caliber round, was found near the victim.
As part of the investigation he spoke to a doctor, Katherine Raven, a forensic pathologist with the coroner’s office and a licensed medical doctor, who had performed an autopsy on the victim, claiming his cause of death was the gunshot wound.
The doctor told the detective that in examining the victim’s body she located a single entrance gunshot wound on the victim’s chest. She could not find any soot or stippling on the wound.
This detail prompted the DDA to ask, “What would be the significance if she had located that?”
Detective Sareeram responded, “She stated that the significance with that would be that it was a contact wound or that the gunshot occurred within a very close proximity to the victim’s body.” Based on this observation, the shot was not fired in close range.
The following day, on Tuesday, March 31, at around 4 am, Detective Sareeram said he conducted an interview with the defendant, Damien Todd, who admitted to driving a red Ford Explorer for over the past seven to eight months and he used it as his work truck.
The detective told the court Todd initially denied being present at the scene of the crime, first telling them that he was not in the area of the girlfriend’s residence at all that day. The detectives further asked him if he was with his friend—the passenger who fled. But he denied ever being with him that day.
The detective, during the interview, told Todd that his cell phone records put him at the scene of the homicide, but Todd initially said that “there was no way that that was possible, essentially he wasn’t the type of person to commit an act like that and nor was his friend, and then he stated he thought he was being questioned regarding a prior misdemeanor,” answered detective Sareeram.
After much questioning in the interrogation, the detective told the court that Todd further denied being at the victim’s girlfriend’s house on the day of the homicide. However, towards the end of the interview, the defendant finally admitted to being there.
The detective said Todd had told him he went over there to smoke, drink, and play dice. He said that he left in a good mood, everything was happy and that he had actually given the victim a hug prior to leaving.
As the interview continued, the detective told the defendant that the victim was dead. After telling Todd that, Todd exclaimed that he would not use a gun if he had a problem with the victim.
The detective later told Todd in the overview that the victim said just before he died, “You shot me!”
Todd subsequently told the detective that the victim had been following him and walking up on him. Then he told them the victim said he had a gun in his waistband and he told the victim to back away from him. He admitted that he and the victim had gotten into a scuffle and that Todd then reached for the victim’s gun.
Todd told detectives that the victim was upset with him because Todd won the dice game in the garage.
Todd then explained that he had walked around his red Ford Explorer and the victim continued to follow him.
He then admitted to shooting the victim once, but claimed he had meant to shoot him in the leg.
But the defendant first said he threw the gun in a field, and later admitted that the gun he used, the detectives would be able to find in a blue bin inside his closet in his residence.
Todd told the detective that the shooting was an accident and that he didn’t mean to pull the trigger. Yet he also admitted that he had left the scene and never told the detectives that he stayed and attempted to call 911.
Defense Attorney Clinkenbeard highlighted to the court that the defendant was arrested at a late hour, with the interview being conducted at 4 a.m. This led the defense to ask about the defendant’s mental state and disorientation, influencing his ability to answer correctly during the interview.
The defense also brought up the issue of having guns around the children, noting, “While you were speaking with Mr. Todd about this incident did he indicate to you that he was concerned that the victim would play around with his gun too much, around the kids at the house? Did he express some concern why the victim was showing the gun off to him?”
Detective Sareeram answered, “Yes he did mention that. It’s fair to say it seemed that his concern was why was he doing it in general, especially with the kids around.”
Judge Sawtelle ruled, “There is sufficient cause at any rate to believe that (the offenses have been committed), so the court will hold the defendant to answer and deem this complaint to be an information.”
Based on this ruling, Todd’s arraignment was scheduled for August 27 at 1:30 pm at Sacramento Superior Court.
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