By Ruby Mota-Garcia
FRESNO, CA – Two men were found guilty of murder, robbery and witness tampering here in Fresno County Superior Court last week after a jury deliberated for nearly two days.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Veneman-Hughes began closing arguments, telling the jury one of the accused didn’t ask his “good homie if he was being tracked.”
DDA Veneman-Hughes made fun of the accused, charging they could not even follow directions and drove all the way to Kettleman City. He also mentioned that an accomplice, who was a witness for the case, was very high and her memory was hazy.
The DDA reflected on defense expert witness, Martin Flores, who the DA said “makes a living” testifying for the defense, and that the government’s expert witness Brian Yetter’s interpretations of the coded language is the correct interpretation.
Defense Attorney Curtis Sok gave his closing argument, reminding the jury that he had to tell the prosecution’s witness to state the truth and asked if she truly remembered the accused from that night, and she said no.
Although the witness had been a couple months sober during her testimony, Defense Attorney Sok stated, “It doesn’t mean they have a better reconstruction of memory three years later.”
Sok spoke about the validity of the accomplice’s testimony, arguing this case was about “GPS vs. Sweet Ticket Out of Jail,” noting the prosecution witness is currently not in custody or in jail because she made a deal with the government.
“Do you think [the accomplice] has the motive to tell the truth if she got a good deal?” asked Defense Attorney Sok. “She can go nine years if she doesn’t go with the same accusation.”
When referencing the accomplice’s recording of their interrogation with the officers, Defense Attorney Sok played the beginning part of the recording and made sure to point out to the jury every time the witness would say ‘I don’t know’ but toward the second half of the recording she began making solid statements.
Defense Attorney Sok stated, “The prosecutor told you to pay attention to the second half because she was lying in the beginning. Truth has no multiple versions ladies and gentlemen.”
Defense Attorney Sok said the accomplice would refuse to answer certain questions. “Her way of escaping is by saying ‘I don’t know.’”
He explained how the officers asked the witness about the planning for the robbery and noted that “it takes them question after question to get [the accomplice] to commit” to the version they wish to obtain from them.
He gave the example of 9/11 and stated that one does not forget where one was or what they were doing on that day, adding, “You don’t forget when you tell the truth.”
Lastly, Defense Attorney Richard Beshwate said, “The only thing we heard about [his client] was that [the accused’s] phone was tracked,” and that there was no DNA or statements, nothing.
Beshwate reminded the jury that when the accomplice was arrested, they were told they were arrested for murder. He stated the accomplice knew what they had to say in order to get out of it.
Like Sok, Defense Counsel Beshwate referenced back to the interrogation of the accomplice, commenting, “They asked her leading questions and if they didn’t like an answer she gave, they said they didn’t believe her.”
Afterwards, DDA Veneman-Hughes gives his rebuttal. He went on to say the accused were lucky to have defense lawyers Sok and Beshwate as their representation; they were excellent at their job but “they try to raise confusion” for the jury. He also noted Beshwate had a voice that belonged on the radio or as an announcer.
DDA Veneman-Hughes adds Beshwate’s client “didn’t vomit a lot of evidence” compared to Defense Attorney Sok’s client.
Sok requested a rebuttal because prosecutor Veneman-Hughes insulted both defense attorneys and changed facts in evidence, telling the judge he took great offense to what DA Veneman-Hughes stated about their work because Defense Attorney Sok felt that DA Veneman-Hughes insinuated that the defense was excellent at confusing the jury.
“That is not what we’re doing here,” said Sok.
Judge Kimberly Gaab called for a 15-minute break to review the transcript and did some research on cases with similar situations. She then came back and stated that the court found no prosecutorial misconduct. Judge Gaab also stated recent cases with similar situations and the courts found no prosecutor misconduct.
Defense Attorney Sok also gave two cases, approximately from the 1990s, where the courts did find prosecutor misconduct. He pointed out the cases given by Judge Gaab shows that many courts have allowed this type of behavior for many years.
“The prosecution has the advantage of a rebuttal and they know that. They know the defense can’t defend themselves through a rebuttal,” stated Defense Attorney Sok.
Judge Gaab stated that she has done everything in her power and found no prosecutorial misconduct. She did state, however, that she would read a section of the jury instruction specifying that everything said by all attorneys is not evidence, testimony by witnesses is evidence.