By Linhchi Nguyen
RIVERSIDE, CA – After four hours, the jury hopelessly deadlocked on all but one charge here in Riverside County Superior Court Monday after the alleged victim stated about the defendant, “I’m sorry. I don’t remember him. You got the wrong guy.”
Judge Dean Benjamini ultimately declared a mistrial in the Salomon Garcia Sauceda case on two of three counts, which included assault with a deadly weapon and criminal threats against a homeless victim.
Sauceda was pronounced guilty for only his third charge, which is carrying a concealed weapon.
The victim was called up to the witness stand last Thursday in order to testify on her alleged attack by Sauceda. However, she nearly quit her own testimony during cross-examination after the defense attorney peppered her with questions about her homelessness and drug use.
At one point, the victim started yelling, “I’m sorry I don’t remember him. You got the wrong guy, since I’m a f****** lying drug addict!”
As a result, Assistant Public Defender Daniel Yu raised a motion to completely dismiss two of the charges against his client, Salomon Garcia Sauceda.
However, Judge Dean Benjamini denied his request, saying that the victim’s statement of having the “wrong guy” was made in a moment of frustration, and he did not take that as a “definitive statement.”
He further pointed out that the questions about her drug use and homelessness probably “struck her at a very raw and difficult nerve for her to deal with.”
According to the alleged victim, Sauceda confronted her under a bridge by a Desert Car Wash in September 2020, demanding she give back his phone while holding up a pocket knife toward her. At that time, she tried to tell him, “I didn’t take your phone. I don’t care about those things,” but the defendant didn’t believe her.
As a result, they scuffled, causing the victim to get an abrasion on her left arm. She escaped and ran as far as she could before she dialed 911. “I saw him chasing me, and I really thought he was going to kill me. I really did” she exclaimed to the court.
When replaying the 911 call recording, the victim can be heard crying to the dispatcher about a man chasing after her: “This guy…had a knife and put it to my head,” she said in a distressed tone through the phone. “And he threw me down against the rocks…and I-I got away, and then I ran…”
Deputy District Attorney Hayden Thomas also called forward two police officers who arrived at the scene. Officer Max Reynoso first testified to witnessing the victim being very emotional when he saw her, and he was also able to observe a one-inch abrasion on her left bicep.
The second policeman, Officer Kenneth Merenda, then testified to driving back to the bridge with the victim so that she could locate and positively identify the defendant.
When they found someone matching the description, Merenda detained the individual and found two knives on his person. One of the knives was a red Milwaukee pocket knife—the exact same type of knife that the victim described the defendant to be holding when he attacked her.
During the victim’s direct testimony, she also admitted to being homeless and being under the influence of drugs. As she mentioned this, she appeared rather aggressive and agitated.
For instance, when Thomas asked her where she lived, she replied, “I live in a f****** tree [because] I’m homeless.”
When asked whether she used drugs, she also said, “I don’t know how you can live out on the streets without using drugs.”
Things became rockier when Yu began cross-examining the victim on her drug addiction. He asked what kind of drugs she used and whether she was under the influence when she called the police.
After a few seconds, the victim then shot back defensively, saying, “I don’t know what having drugs have to do with this case. Because these things still happened whether I’m a drug addict or not.”
Judge Benjamini then had to jump in, telling the victim that whether something is relevant is for the “jury to decide” and that she needed to allow Yu to finish answering his questions.
In response, the victim let out a heated outburst: “Fine, then. I’m sorry I don’t remember him. You got the wrong guy, since I’m a f****** lying drug addict!” When the judge asked her to calm down, she yelled back even louder, “I said I don’t remember him!”
PD Yu took a long pause, giving the victim some time to breathe, before he gradually resumed with his questions. First, he apologized for offending her and assured her that he is only intending to provide background information to the jury, instead of embarrassing her.
After a few moments, the victim eventually complied with the questions. She admitted to taking heroin at least once a day and methamphetamine on occasion. She was using both when she called the police, and she stated that the drugs help her cope with her physical pain, although it has never changed her mood nor memory.
Yu brought up the fact that, during direct examination, the victim testified to not remembering ever meeting her attacker before their encounter. “Is it possible that you never met him, or that you don’t remember?”
To this, she answered that she doesn’t remember and that “it’s possible” for her to have met him before.
When Yu cross-examined Officer Reynoso, he got Reynoso to admit that he failed to perform any drug tests on the victim in order to make sure that she wasn’t intoxicated. Reynoso also mentioned that neither her clothes nor her skin appeared dirty despite her claiming to be in a scuffle with someone on the ground.
On Monday, the defendant’s trial came to an end with Thomas and Yu delivering their closing statements.
DDA Thomas began his closing argument with a quote that the defendant allegedly told the victim during the assault: “I’m about to kill you b****”
“That’s what Mr. Sauceda said to [the victim] when he held a knife to her, three inches away from her. Her back to the wall. Demanding that she bring his stuff back,” Thomas stated. “When it got physical, he still had a knife in his hands.”
Thomas further pointed out that the victim’s description of her attacker in the call matched perfectly with Sauceda’s description when the police located him: gray tank top, camo shorts, and Adidas shoes.
Although Thomas admitted to the victim’s drug use on that day, he emphasized that the victim “didn’t seem disoriented” during the 911 call and “reported the information without any hesitation.”
As for the defense’s closing, PD Yu centered his argument with the victim’s lack of credibility. He began his statement by comparing the victim to his young niece who believes in the Easter bunny:
“She sees the bunny. She’ll describe to you that he has big fluffy ears. She’ll tell you that she saw him at the mall. She’ll describe to you the color of his fur, she’ll describe to you what he was wearing…but I don’t think anybody here would call her a liar, right?”
He then made a point that nobody here is calling the victim a liar. “She truly believes that Sauceda said these things to her,” Yu stated. “But it’s important to note that even she herself doubts her memory, and she told us that.”
He reminded the jury of the moment when the victim yelled out of police having the “wrong guy” and that she “didn’t remember him.”
In Thomas’s rebuttal, he refuted that “anybody with just a little common sense would recognize that that’s pure sarcasm. She was upset because her dirty laundry was being thrown out in front of the courtroom”
However, Yu also noted the victim called herself a “heroin addict,” and admitted to injecting both methamphetamine and heroin—both of which she used during the September 2020 incident.
As a result, he indicated that what she said “may be affected by emotional instability [and] drug use. In fact, she replied with “I don’t know” and “not that I remember” multiple times during her direct and cross-examination.
Lastly, Yu claimed that there is no evidence to indicate that she was thrown down on the ground or had a knife to her head. Her clothes and skin appeared clean, and she had no injuries to her head.
After the attorneys’ closing arguments, the jury was given the rest of the day to deliberate on whether Sauceda was guilty or innocent on all three charges. However, after being called in by Judge Benjamini twice in the span of four hours, the jury insisted it was deadlocked in their decision on two of the counts. There was even a deadlock for a lesser count of assault with a deadly weapon.
Finally, at the end of the day, Judge Benjamini asked each juror individually if they were certain about the deadlock, and after receiving their confirmations, he declared a mistrial for the two counts.
As a result, Sauceda was pronounced guilty by the jury for carrying a concealed weapon but could not be convicted for the deadly assault nor criminal threat.
Linhchi Nguyen is a fourth year at UC Davis, double majoring in Political Science and English. She currently lives in Sacramento, California.
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