By Hannah Blome
WOODLAND – After parts of two weeks in preliminary hearing in Yolo County Superior Court, Jose Luis Gomez Arreola learned Wednesday he will stand trial for the 2011 murder of Gabriel Villareal Ibarra and injuring another.
Because of the conflicting statements of witnesses, the court said it had some doubts to Gomez Arreola’s guilt, but not enough to find Gomez Arreola not guilty in a prelim.
Gomez Arreola is said to have shot wildly into a crowd of people at a bar fight in 2011 in Woodland, before fleeing to Mexico. Apprehended in Idaho in 2020, Gomez Arreola’s case was brought to Judge David Reed at the Yolo County Courthouse.
Prosecuting Attorney Alex Kian delivered his opening statement, charging, “We know that the victim died at the scene. We know that the defendant, Gomez Arreola, went to his truck, grabbed a firearm, then went back and shot wildly at the crowd, striking Mr. Ibarra twice, killing him.”
Kian also reminded the court that the defendant admitted to a witness that he had fled to Mexico because he shot someone in Woodland. Kian emphasized that multiple witnesses provided testimonies of shooters at the scene who fit Gomez Arreola’s description.
But defense attorney Micheal Chastaine cast doubt on the multiple witness statements.
“This case is a tragic event, after a night of partying, where a man lost his life,” Chastaine said. “But that is all we really do know. We don’t really know what happened that night, why it happened, and more importantly we don’t know who shot the victim. There is no reasonable suspicion in this case.
“There are several people who saw a shooter, or multiple shooters, and each had their own different description of what the shooter looked like. Some people testified the shooter was wearing a white shirt, others with stripes, and some with no shirt at all. Some witnesses testified that the shooter was the driver of the truck, some said the shooter was in the backseat of the truck. Even the descriptions of the truck differed,” he added.
Chastaine said that the alcohol and drug consumption by witnesses that night may have impaired their testimonies and judgment of the event. He said that one witness, however, was a 19-year-old girl. Since the witness was under the legal drinking age, she did not consume alcohol that night and thus presented a sober interpretation of the events that unfolded in Woodland in 2011.
Chastaine noted that the witness reported two shooters, rather than one. The witness’s sobriety at the event and her testimony describing two shooters provides an alternative story to the otherwise guilty-looking Gomez Arreola.
“Most people testified that the shooter was shooting into the ground to stop the fights that were going on,” Chastaine said. “There is no consensus, and a lot of hearsay in this 10-year-old case.”
In response to the defense attorney’s statement, Kian defended the reliability of the witness testimonies and hearsay statements.
“With respect to hearsay statements, your honor did permit the hearsay statement of the defendant’s court of confession,” Kian said. “That was admitted and sent to the preliminary hearing.”
Kian cited People v. Mixon (1982) and People v. Jones (1969) to defend the multiple witnesses’s conflicting statements.
“Under this case, your honor, at a preliminary hearing, a victim’s or witnesses’ general suspect description and or corroborating evidence can sufficiently justify, holding the defendant to answer even if the witness cannot identify the defendant in court.” Kian said.
“The strength or weakness of the identification is a matter within the province of the jury. What it comes down to is the weight. Even if there is conflicting testimony, it is certainly permissible to hold the defendant to answer for preliminary hearing and (let) the jury decide. This is primarily a jury issue given the fact that there is evidence in support, and certainly some evidence against the defendant,” he noted.
In response to confusion over the color of the defendant’s shirt, Kian reminded the judge that the court had already analyzed surveillance footage to determine the identity of the shooter. Kian said that some shots from the 10-year-old footage displays the shooter in a white tank top, but earlier footage shows the same man in a pink shirt. Kian declared that the defendant simply took his shirt off at some point during the altercation.
“It’s perfectly in the realm of corroboration that even though he says white shirt, he means pink shirt,” Kian said in response to claims that multiple witnesses reported white shirts. “The shirt looks white, but we also determined that through different frames, the same individual is wearing a pink shirt.”
Judge Reed interrupted Kian because the live stream connection had cut out.
“This is a very interesting case,” Reed said. “Two people may witness an event and see or hear differently. In this case we had a variety of descriptions of the shooter. Some witnesses said there was one shooter, some witnesses said there were two shooters.”
Reed acknowledged that witnesses often don’t pay close attention to altercations because their main goal in such an event is first to seek safety. He called the evidence presented “vague or unknown.”
Reed suggested that, based on witness statements, the court finds sufficient evidence that the defendant shot a firearm and caused death, but cannot entirely be ruled as a murder charge until the court determines if Gomez Arreola was the only shooter, and whether the defendant was acting in self-defense or not.
Judge Reed did find enough evidence—it’s a low bar—for the case to go to trial, and set arraignment on Feb. 4, at 1:30 pm.
Hannah Blome is a third year Political Science major at UC Davis, pursuing a double minor in Professional Writing and Logic Philosophy. She is originally from San Diego, CA.
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