Defense Team Grows Doubtful of Witness’ Memory from Night of Alleged Incident

By Ruby Mota-Garcia

FRESNO, CA – Earlier this week, the defense team seemed doubtful about a witness’ knowledge and memory in a felony jury trial at the Fresno County Superior Courthouse.

The accused are charged with murder, attempted robbery and dissuading a witness.

On Jan. 25, 2020, the victim allegedly made a drug deal with a female in his garage. Once the female arrived, a dispute occurred. Two men ran up to the garage and began pistol-whipping the victim. One of the men shot the victim, making him fall to his knees and to the floor. The victim was later pronounced deceased in a local hospital.

Deputy District Attorney Robert Veneman-Hughes called a witness who was present on the night of the incident. When DDA Veneman-Hughes began questioning the witness, he asked if they saw one of the two men present in the court from the night of the incident.

From what she could remember from the night in question, the witness confirmed that only one of the men was present in the courtroom that morning.

DDA Veneman-Hughes continued to question the witness and asked about the color of clothing the two men were wearing. The witness mentioned they were wearing dark clothing “from head to toe” but she could see a bit of both their faces.

Defense Attorney Curtis Sok played black-and-white surveillance footage outside the victim’s garage. He pointed out the witness was wearing dark-colored pants and a lighter-colored sweater, and the witness agreed.

Sok then played the moment the two men appeared in the footage and asked the witness if the video showed them wearing light-colored clothing, and the witness agreed, although commenting to the defense attorney, “I don’t think black and white footage is reliable.”

Then, Sok asked the witness if both men’s faces were covered, and the witness stated, “They had their hoodies tied tight around their face.”

And, when asked if the witness was watching when the dispute occurred, the witness admitted, “Initially, I was not paying attention” because they “did not want to get into [the victim’s] business.”

Defense Attorney Sok then read  a statement made by the witness on the night of the incident that read, “I was so scared that I didn’t look up.”

But the witness told the court, “I don’t recall saying that.”

Defense Attorney Sok then stated the witness could not give the height of the two men the night of the incident, and adds, in April, three months after the incident, the witness was shown a series of pictures but was not confident about picking anyone in the lineup.

Yet, three years later, the witness is ready and able to identify someone, charges the defense attorney, who approached the witness on the stand and asks the witness to stop lying and wasting his time.

“You aren’t certain, are you?” asks Defense Attorney Sok. “No sir,” replies the witness.

Defense Attorney Richard Beshwate asks, “Would it be safe to say you weren’t paying attention?” The witness replies, “It would be safe to say that, yes.”

Judge Kimberly Gaab grew concerned about gang evidence being admitted and how it was being introduced.

Defense attorney Curtis Sok stated to the court that certain phrases like “large-scale investigations,” “federal violation,” and “investigation of violent gangs” would insinuate that the accused is involved in the most violent gang in the Central Valley.

When Deputy District Attorney Robert Veneman-Hughes brought to the stand a technology surveillance expert witness, Sok was concerned that the expert witness’ day-to-day assignments and gang-related operations would describe a large-scale investigation without explicitly saying it; any mention of the sort would give the jury the impression about his client that “this dude is a bad dude.”

Defense Attorney Sok stated there is no gang enhancement in this case. “This case is not gang-related,” Sok expresses loudly. While the witness goes into gang-related operations in their job, Sok’s concern is that this will give the jury the impression that the defendant is a bad person causing prejudice toward the accused.

Judge Gaab stated to DDA Veneman-Hughes her frustrations about the topic being raised during the preliminary hearing. Judge Gaab stated that “we are not going to boot-strap any relevant evidence” to the accused in this case.

“I think it’s highly prejudicial, and it’s irrelevant,” firmly states Defense Attorney Sok.

About The Author

Ruby is a UC Berkeley graduate with a Double Bachelor's in Political Science and Legal Studies. She is a first-generation Mexican-American Latina who's goal is to attend law school and become and immigration attorney. She has worked for non-profit organizations that provide immigration services for low-income communities. She returned to the Central Valley with a goal to give back and hopes to help her community throughout her practice. Ruby speaks both English and Spanish fluently.

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