Defense Contends Prosecution Has Wrong Man in Alleged Gang-Related Attempted Murder Preliminary Hearing


By Mary Magana-Ayala and Silverio Rizo Llamas

SACRAMENTO, CA–– Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Curtis M. Fiorini ruled a man the prosecution claims is associated with the Howe Park Sureños gang needs to stand trial for attempted murder, after a near fatal shooting in the area of Wyda and Ethan Ways, near Arden Fair Mall in 2018.

The shooting was believed to have been gang related, although the defense strongly contested that assertion and that Rey Francisco Piceno was involved in the incident.

In a preliminary hearing Friday, Judge Fiorini ruled evidence supporting charges against Piceno, including attempted murder, firing a firearm at a dwelling and a person, and carrying a firearm as a convicted felon, were good enough to be upheld at trial.

Piceno entered pleas of not guilty to all the charges. The trial is set for Dec. 6.

The shooting is believed to have been triggered by graffiti associated with the rival gang of Piceno, claimed the prosecution.

Deputy District Attorney Samuel L. Alexander called Sacramento Police Dept. Detective John Sample to the stand, who stated that the philosophy of the gang is to maintain respect and control territory, through whatever means necessary.

He went on to describe the ways in which police are able to ID Howe Park Sureños, including through the use of certain clothes, tattoos, and hand signs. He also stated that tensions were high between the rival gangs at the time of the incident.

The prosecution questioned Det. Sample regarding two other cases involving Howe Park Sureños. The first case involved an altercation between Howe Park Surenos and rival Norteño gang members, in which one of the Howe Park Sureños shot at the driver’s side window of a rival’s car.

The other case was regarding an armed robbery of a store by Kevin Villegas, a known Howe Park Sureño, and one of his associates. Det. Sample added Piceno was a known associate of Villegas, and other gang members. Det. Sample stated that gang members associated with each other for “protection,” among other reasons.

The prosecution asked Det. Sample whether he thought that Piceno was a Howe Park Sureño. Det. Sample stated that he did believe that Piceno was an “active” Howe Park Sureño and mentioned that they had “11 criteria to ID gang members.”

Det. Sample stated that the defendant had admitted to being a Howe Park Sureño, and had gang tattoos such as the number “13” tattooed on his elbow, a reference to the Mexican Mafia.

He also noted the defendant’s social media posts which contained images associated with gang activity and gang membership, and referenced the fact that the defendant associated himself with other Howe Park Sureños.

DDA Alexander called Lee Yonemura, a homicide detective with the Sacramento Police Department. During the questioning, Yonemura stated that the witness at the scene described one of the shooters as having a lot of face acne.

Det. Yonemura stated that the victim was called in to identify the defendant through the use of photographs. According to the detective, he didn’t identify Piceno and he noticed that the victim quickly passed over his image while he concentrated on others.

He also stated that two phone calls made from the Piceno’s phone after the time of the shooting were located within the same radius.

Referring to the surveillance video, Det. Yonemura stated that he noted someone who he believed was Piceno because of his distinctive walk, Pittsburgh Pirates hat, and shoes. The detective also mentioned that the gun found on Piceno matched four bullet casings that were found at the scene.

However, during cross-examination of Det. Yonemura, Defense Attorney Issac W. Choy argued that the witness at the scene not only said the shooter had acne in the face, but that the shooter was also bald. He noted suspect Piceno was not bald when he was arrested or at the present time.

The defense also stated that the witness described the gun of the shooters to be a short revolver, while the gun obtained from the defendant was of a completely different style.

“Would it be clearly recognizable if the gun was a different style?” Choy asked Det. Yonemura. Yonemura responded, “Yes.”

Defense Attorney Choy argued that the evidence presented was inconsistent because, during the photo lineup, the victim did not identify Piceno. He suggested that the other persons in the photographs could be the real suspects.

The defense argued that the cell tower used at the time of the incident near Howe Avenue not only encompassed the site of the shooting but also the defendant’s residence, so he could have potentially been making a call from his house.

The defense also argued Det. Yonemura had no expertise in gait analysis, discrediting his assertion that the defendant was the one seen in video surveillance.

Det. Yonemura had previously stated that he believed Piceno was the shooter because of his distinctive walk. However, Yonemura admitted to lacking expertise in the subject.

Defense Attorney Choy referred to the expert statements given by Det. Sample, and argued that a common symbol of Howe Park’s Sureños is the Pittsburgh Pirates hat, so anyone who can be identified as a Sureño gang member could have worn the same hat.

Referring to the surveillance video, Choy stated that the surveillance video provided as evidence does not show a clear picture of the defendant Piceno’s face, and Det. Yonemura agreed.

DDA Alexander insisted Piceno was a Howe Park Sureño member, who shot at a rival gang member with his family in the vehicle. The bullet struck the rival gang member’s wife under the arm, and when Piceno was contacted the firearm found in his possession was allegedly used in the shooting three days prior.

Defense attorney Choy rebutted that, noting, “I don’t believe there is enough evidence for the attempted murder charges,” stating that the key information provided by witnesses was inconsistent with the prosecution’s arguments.

He also stated that gang members tend to share guns and that a lot of people wear the Pittsburgh Pirates hat and the Nike shoes that Piceno owns, which casts doubt regarding the identity of the shooter.

DDA Alexander argued “all the evidence points that Mr. Piceno shot the victim. It’s not only the hat, shoes, gait analysis, cell phone towers… given the possession of the firearm and other evidence points to holding him accountable.”


About The Author

Mary Magana-Ayala is a junior at UC Davis double majoring in Political Science and Chicano Studies. She is from Watsonville, California.

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