By Jacqueline Rodriguez and Angela Patel
RIVERSIDE, CA – It took a jury less than a few hours—from mid-afternoon to just before 5 p.m. quitting time—in Riverside County Superior Court this week to determine that defendant Sergio Guzman-Lopez was guilty of six counts of armed robbery, and one count of gang enhancement.
After lunch, at around 1:30 p.m. the trial resumed after morning closing statements, and Judge David Wells sent the jury into deliberation. The jury returned to the court after three hours with its verdict at around 4:40 p.m.
The jury found that the defendant was guilty of committing all six robberies “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal street gang with the specific intent to promote, further, or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members with Barrio Dream Homes.”
The jury also found the defendant guilty of active participation in a criminal street gang during a felony.
In California, gang sentencing enhancements for felonies mean this defendant will likely receive a sentence of five to 10 years in addition to the sentence imposed in August for the six felony robberies. The defense attempt to argue the defendant was not acting for the benefit of a gang was unsuccessful.
With that being said, Deputy District Attorney Steven Sorenson began his closing argument earlier by outlining what Guzman allegedly did on Feb. 7, 2015, to “other human beings, while hiding behind the power of a gun, and the power of a gang.”
Allegedly, Guzman was behind the wheel of a black, older model Chevrolet Silverado accompanied by other individuals when he approached Victim 1 saying, “What are you doing, you think you’re gangster–I’m gangster. Empty out your pockets,” as he put a gun to the victim’s head and said “hurry.”
Guzman’s accomplices then allegedly, said the DDA, yelled to Victim 1, “What do you got?–He doesn’t give it up, shoot him.” After taking Victim 1’s iPhone 6, Guzman and the others proceed to “jump” Victim 1.
Sorenson highlighted the way that every single person “from that group” proceeded to “act as one” as they all contributed to the injuries to Victim 1.
Furthermore, DDA Sorenson reminded the jury about another incident that occurred the same night which involved another victim, Victim 2, and how Victim 2 had previously testified under oath in 2015 against Guzman regarding an alleged home invasion case that had occurred in Victim 2’s home.
According to Victim 2’s testimony, Victim 2 was able to identify Guzman, which Victim 2 knew as “Sergio aka Loco,” as one of the individuals who forcefully entered Victim 2’s home, armed, as he began to assault one of Victim 2’s house guests by hitting them in the head numerous times with a gun while Guzman demanded, “Where’s my brother’s money?”
After Victim 2’s guest handed Guzman $40 dollars, Guzman then proceeded to hit Victim 2 over the head with his gun.
Other individuals who entered the home with Guzman also mentioned to Victim 2’s house guest, “Give me all your s**t, you know what we came for, we’re doing this for the ‘big homie’ Dream Homes Gang.”
Many items were taken from all over the home, and guns were drawn on every guest in Victim 2’s home.
After Guzman was arrested, and on trial for this crime, Victim 2 claimed that they “suddenly couldn’t seem to remember anything,” from that night, even though Victim 2 had already testified twice under oath.
Sorenson claimed that the reasoning behind Victim 2 pretending not to “remember anything” was because she was “protecting herself” from Guzman and his gang, since allegedly, on Oct. 2015, individuals from Guzman’s gang, “Calvin Hall, and David Mendez aka Legs or Crazy Legs,” arrived at Victim 2’s home.
They said to her, “don’t go talk to DA, don’t go to court, if you f****ing go to court, we will hurt you,” resulting in Victim 2 claiming that they suddenly couldn’t remember what had happened due to the fear inflicted by Hall and Mendez.
Other witnesses in the home also refused to give any information, or identify the men who entered Victim 2’s home since they were afraid of what “Dream Homes Gang” was capable of if they testified against them in court.
Sorenson proceeded to discuss expert testimonies that were given from several police officers in regard to gang-related crimes, and how one specific officer mentioned that “based on all the facts that we heard today, all of this was done for the benefit of, at the direction of a street gang, Barrio Dream Homes, to prompt and assist bad conduct.”
DDA Sorenson concluded his closing argument by reminding the jury how the gang enhancement charge relates to the six counts of armed robbery that Guzman had already been convicted of, and therefore all they were there to do was to make the determination that those six counts were the narrow determination that, while Guzman was committing the felonies that he had already been convicted of, he was doing it “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang.”
Defense Attorney Leonard Cravens began his closing argument by mentioning right away that “this is a case where cops claim Sergio Lopez-Guzman committed six robberies for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with the Barrio Dream Homes Gang.”
Cravens suggested to the jury that they should be focused on Guzman’s intent when committing the robberies, and to not let the other perpetrators’ involvement or evidence distract them from the intention that Guzman had when committing the robberies.
One of the first main points that Cravens introduced was how “law enforcement, in this case, did not do the job that they’re supposed to do.”
He noted that, indeed, most officers do their job to the best of their ability, “but there’s some, as in this case, that like to use shortcuts, and they don’t do their job correctly, and they don’t collect the evidence that they talk about they have, but then when I cross-examine them, they say ‘oh I don’t remember, I don’t remember, I didn’t do that.’”
Cravens explained that Guzman’s “intent” to commit the robberies for the benefit of the gang was never proven on all six counts.
He did agree with DDA Sorenson, that the crimes committed by Guzman were “crimes of opportunity,” however, he mentioned that those crimes were not related to an intent to further promote the gang.”
Cravens admitted to the jury that what his client did, as far as participating in the robberies, “was wrong, and he shouldn’t have done that, but that doesn’t make it a gang case, and it doesn’t make it for the benefit of the gang. You have to remember to separate the two things.”
He reminded the jury that, while committing the crimes, his client did not say anything along the lines of “give me the gang’s money, or give me the tax, you owe something to the gang.”
On the other hand, when discussing the cross-examination he had with the police officers and the gang expert, Cravens asked them to identify who the “shot caller” of the gang was, or who could’ve “possibly ordered this,” in which both the officers and gang expert said they “didn’t know,” even though they considered themselves gang experts.
With this information given, Cravens said that this proved that the officers were either “lying, or totally incompetent of doing their job.” He then reiterated that he “doesn’t like to say that about police officers, because not all police officers are like that, but how can they not know all of this stuff?”
As he proceeded to go into further detail about the testifying police officers on the case, he referred to one of officers as an “absolute liar,” as well as describing the testimony of two other officers as “shameful.”
Cravens mentioned that since this was a gang case, a lot of the officers “want to use scare tactics about gangs to inflame their passions,” however, he pleaded to the jury for them not to fall for it.
Cravens claimed that the officers made many accusations that they knew a lot about the gangs, but when cross-examined to give details, “they either attempted to answer a different question to mislead and confuse you, or they had memory failure.”
He then concluded that in this case, there is simply a lack of proof regarding the allegations that these crimes were committed for the benefit of the gang.
Sorenson was then given the opportunity to give any final statements, which he used as an opportunity to remind the jury once again that the motive behind the robberies that Guzman had committed were for the simple fact that he did it with the intent to benefit the gang.