Flurry of Eyewitnesses Testify Tuesday in Trial of Man Accused of Setting Fire Near Busy Freeway

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By Brinda Kalita

VENTURA, CA- The jury trial of Jorge Flores began Tuesday here in Ventura County Superior Court with opening statements and witness testimonies.

Flores is on trial for alleged felony aggravated arson, and has a misdemeanor charge against him for being under the influence of a controlled substance.

In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Matthew Hovespian discussed the burden of proof that he was taking on, and assured the jury that they would declare Flores guilty by the end of the trial.

Meanwhile, Deputy Public Defender Damon Jenkins asked the jury to keep an open mind. He also asked the jury to keep in mind three questions throughout the trial: who lit the fire, how did they light the fire, and the person’s mental state while lighting the fire.

“This could be an opportunity to deliver true justice,” PD Jenkins added to his opening statement.

The prosecution then called Flores’ cousin to the stand.

Flores’s cousin revealed that the accused confessed to starting the fire near the creek the accused was supposed to be fishing.

Flores’s cousin then added that after he called the police, the police had gone through the bag that the accused had left at his cousin’s home.

While the officers were searching the bag, Flores’s cousin saw a lighter among the accused’s fishing equipment.

DDA Hovespian then asked the witness to identify Flores and his bag in a series of photos taken on the day that Flores had allegedly set the area on fire. Flores’ cousin confirmed that the photos were of the accused and all of the items in his bag.

During cross examination, PD Jenkins asked Flores’s cousin if Flores had provided more details in their conversation about the fire and if the defendant explicitly said that he caused the fire. Flores’ cousin responded in the negative.

The next witness was someone who had seen Flores at the scene of the fire.

The witness shared that she had seen a large fire off the highway while she was driving home. She immediately realized that the fire’s range was close to her home.

Panicking, she called her landlord and told her about the incident. She then drove towards the fire.

While she was driving, she saw a man walking away from the scene. The man was wearing a camouflage hat with an LA logo on it, a pair of boxers and had a large bag with him. He had no shirt on.

After seeing the man, she called 911, reported the incident, and drove back home.

However, she saw the man again on her way home. She then started following him so that she could get photos for the police.

Flores apparently, she said, had only noticed the witness after she had started taking pictures of him.

During cross examination, the witness revealed Flores was carrying a plant home, and that the accused had never talked or warned her about the fire at any point.

The third witness called to the stand was another witness who had seen the fire from the highway as well as the accused.

The witness shared that he had only seen the man for a very short amount of time, so his description could be very off. He described the man having a baseball cap, shorts, and was unsure if he had a shirt on or not.

He added the man was making a lot of weird gestures while he passed him on the freeway.

During cross examination, PD Jenkins asked if he could provide more details about the defendant on the day of the fire, but the witness could not.

The fourth witness called was another man that had passed a man, maybe the accused, on the freeway the day of the fire.

The man said he had seen a “Hispanic” man in his 20s with a baseball cap, tan pants, and many tree branches in his hand. As the man was standing in the middle of freeway, the witness said he had to actively avoid running into him on the freeway.

The man was then shown pictures from the scene, but he admitted that it was difficult to identify if the man he saw is the same one as the man from the pictures.

The trial will reconvene Wednesday with more witness testimonies.

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About The Author

Brinda is a second year History/Law and Society major at UC Riverside. She plans on going to law school right after graduation in 2024 and hopes to become a judge one day!

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