COURT WATCH: Lengthy Homicide Prelim Proceeds; Defense Claims Evidence Does Not Link Accused  

By Roxy Benson and Audrey Sawyer

WOODLAND, CA — A preliminary hearing in Yolo County Superior Court for a man accused of murder and conspiracy Wednesday entered into its third day.

Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso argued collected evidence fails to connect the accused to the crime firmly, emphasized the accused had been swabbed for DNA twice despite having already done so years prior, and asked why it took three years to test one of the items for DNA.

Video surveillance, said the defense, was “grainy,” with DPD Borruso commenting that while some characteristics were able to be identified based on videos and some photographs, the “special facial features based off of grainy things were not fair to say.”

An unnamed detective claimed the video quality was in high resolution, and that he had dealt with the accused in person back in August.

The detective said, “By viewing him and his face, and viewing the video from June 23 and 24 back in 2021, I can say that based on facial features, using the software that was used, and it being a quality video, I can say that I recognize the accused from that video.”

Both the accused and another name affiliated with the case (currently in custody) are from Philadelphia. The individual currently in custody was identified as a possible suspect in the case from the Pennsylvania Justice System photo card found in the motel surveillance footage.

The allegations in the case are that they came from Philadelphia to California to carry out the murder after a “drug deal gone wrong.”

DPD Borruso targeted the DNA evidence first, asking the detective if he had gone to Philadelphia two separate times, to which the detective said he had not. The detective told the court law enforcement still had the accused’s DNA from 2022.

In 2022, the accused’s DNA was compared against some of the items found from the autopsy, including a paracord and duct tape which was removed from the deceased’s body. However, the detective admitted that out of the two items tested, none of the items seemed to match/connect to the accused.

“If you already had his DNA, why was another swab taken in January 2024?” DPD Borruso questioned the detective. The detective had explained he was told to take another sample, and had taken the sample in January 2024 so that he could testify to having taken the DNA rather than having to fly out someone else from another state.

Another item noted by DPD Borruso—a drinking cup—was reported to not have been tested for DNA until three years after the incident.

The detective, responding that he was not the one initially involved in matters regarding the case, said, “I was not the primary investigator in 2021.  Conversations were had with that investigator and with a criminologist specialist, it is a large agency and with so much coming in, the conversation was to select which items were to be tested back in 2021.”

The detective added, “Coming back for this investigation, we decided more could have been tested, we decided to test an item based on what was done so far where I could say whether or not the accused was or was not in the room. We decided to test swabs from a soda straw, along with some items in the vehicle.”

It was noted a phone was swabbed, but that there were reasons it was not ultimately selected as a tested item, and the detective admitted the phone could not be linked to the accused.

Going back to the surveillance footage, DPD Borruso said, “You use videos in order to help identify who you believe the suspect is…you just had the video, if you never saw the footage before, could you say who it is?”

The detective claimed if he only saw the video and had never seen them before, he would be unable to say so, as he would not know the names.

When DPD Borruso asked about information on both outgoing and ingoing calls along with any text messages, the detective agreed that “any possible drug transaction would be between the victim and the other name (not the accused), and that there was no evidence that the accused was making narcotics.”

In addition, it was established that there were no text messages discussing coming to California to harm the victim or any similar crime, and no messages between the accused and the other name currently in custody.

No trails were noted to be found about a payment for a drive from Philadelphia to California, said the defense. And while the detective told the court the accused rented a motel room, there is nothing to show that the accused knew of the events that would happen that day, said the defense.

The defense noted, “The accused has DNA on a soda straw of that room, but nothing on the weapon used against the victim, nothing indicating that he helped the other name use the weapon against the victim, or usage of the duct tape.”

An ID was located at the motel under a different name (neither the accused nor another individual was said to be currently in custody), with payment of three $100 bills found to be used by an individual checking into the room, according to the testimony.

Regarding a firearm, almost two years after the crime was committed, possible new evidence was brought forward.

In 2023, the wife of the accused turned over a 22-caliber firearm that was thought to have been involved during the crime, said the detective, adding, “I possibly have that conversation recorded and booked into evidence…she located this gun, I wanted to obtain that gun if it wasn’t located at the crime scene, one possibly known that he always had, I wanted it in my possession to show that he didn’t have it at the crime scene.”

Now with the gun in possession, the registration showed that it had not been under the name of the victim (who had his own firearms) nor was the gun submitted for forensic testing, proving its irrelevance to the case of the accused, the testimony found.

The use of this specific firearm was dismissed by the court because there was no DNA found on the weapon nor was the registration linked to the accused.

The rest of the arguments involving this case are set to be heard later.

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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