Trial Testmony by the Two Main Prosecution Witnesses

Miguel Rhea’s Direct and Cross-Examinations (continued)

I also eviscerated Miguel Rea’s spurious claim that he had supposedly heard that John had said the word “jihad” or something to the effect that John himself was a “jihad” while John was being beaten. I got Miguel to admit that John might have said something else entirely. (It was never determined what, if anything, John had said during the attack. John himself never recalled saying anything as he was struggling to breathe during the assault.)

Again, Miguel had told Detective Sellers (who had interviewed him later that tragic night) that he didn’t see the first gunshot because he had been looking at Ramon at the time. This directly contradicted what Miguel had told the initial investigating uniformed LBPD officer on scene that he had stood up to speak to John (and, therefore, he must have been looking at John). When directly called on this glaring discrepancy, Miguel simply muttered some nonsensical and obviously evasive response.

In fact, as I nailed him on cross and pointed out to the jury, Miguel had told the follow-up detective (not Sellers) that at the time of the first gunshot, he (Miguel) had been looking at Ramon, who had been sitting at the table, so he wasn’t sure whether Victor had been seated or standing when he was shot.

All he knew was that Victor ended up on the kitchen floor as a result, and that it was only after Susan had been shot that he (Miguel) had noticed John was holding a gun in his right hand. But nobody in the jury box was buying Miguel’s obfuscation – but, again, they wouldn’t know what actually occurred until John finally took the stand in his own defense.

One truthful thing Miguel confirmed was the fact that he had arrived at 5:30 pm or so with the bottle of Jack Daniel’s. And although, again, he totally denied that he or Victor were highly intoxicated that night, the jury know had heard from the horse’s mouth that virtually the entire seven hundred and fifty milliliter bottle within an hour and a half of John firing the first bullet.

Similarly, Miguel also confirmed that Susan Garcia and her & Victor’s young son, Ray Garcia, only arrived 60 minutes before she was killed (or about 6:30 pm). This helped bolster my argument/allegation that only Victor and Miguel had consumed at least 90% of the entire bottle. (There are 16 shots in this size bottle, which is also commonly referred to as a “fifth” – see: pinterest.com. This is the equivalent of drinking 16 beers.) Again, at most, Susan only had one or, at most, two shots herself. In addition, Miguel confirmed that Ramon had arrived 30 minutes after Susan – or only one half-hour before the shootings. Again, as with Susan, Ramon only had a few shots of whiskey that night.

Actually, though, John had arrived to the Garcias’ residence at approximately 7:30 pm, which could have been as early asten minutes, but not less than five minutes, before the first bullet was fired. (The precise time – i.e., to the minute – was never determined.)

Interestingly, Miguel – in seemingly contradiction to his other testimony that he hadn’t seen what happened when the first shot was fired – admitted that he had actually been standing right next to John in the kitchen momentsearlier, discussing a motorcycle that John used to own (or still did). (Miguel told police he hadn’t seen John in 18 months since they both attended a concert the band had played in Santa Ana (Orange County, CA).) Keep in mind that this directly contradicted his other testimony that he was looking at Ramon when he heard the first shot. In fact, he actually claimed he hadn’t even heard the first shot go off – he merely saw Victor fall backwards, before he claimed John swung his gun towards Susan, arm fully extended, and fired at her without provocation.

Notwithstanding, Miguel knew he was performing terribly as a prosecution witness – he had a difficult time maintaining eye contact with me (or even the prosecutor), he constantly fidgeted on the stand, his shoulders drooped a little, and he spoke in a halting, low voice – all, at least to me, indications that he was, at minimum, aware that he was lying and that he knew that the jury knew he was lying.

Ramon Chavarria

Both Ramon and Miguel greatly downplayed John’s role in the band, claiming he was really just a groupie or hanger-on when, in fact, as I got both of them to admit on cross, John was not just a guitarist for the band, but a promoter and vital financial sponsor who regularly provided equipment for free that the others were unable or unwilling to pay on their own. They also admitted that they never reimbursed John. By the time I was done with that line of cross, the jury had a clear picture that the band had been shamelessly taking advantage of John.

By the way, I forgot to mention that Miguel had lied to the interviewing LBPD officer by claiming he “has only seen Suspect McVoy a few times at the band’s concerts. They never talked and they don’t know each other.”

On direct, Ramon testified that at the time of the first gunshot, he had been looking down because he was twisting the top off a plastic water bottle. Ramon himself had confirmed to an LBPD officer that “he just saw his two friends get shot.” In other words, this supported my conviction that he had lied on direct when he claimed that he had not witnessed Victor being shot.

Like Miguel, Ramon testified that after hearing the first shot, he looked in John’s direction and saw him extending his arm with the Colt aimed towards Susan. (It was obvious to me, at least, that he and Ramon had quickly concocted this nonsense in order to implicate John in a First-Degree Murder at California Penal Code section 187(a), California Penal Code section 188, California Penal Code section 189(a) & California Penal Code section 190 charge and to absolve their good friend Victor of any wrongdoing.)

Ramon, as Miguel did, testified that Victor had only been joking around with John that night about Hillary Clinton and making the racial remarks, claiming that Victor had a peculiar, deadpan sense of humor. He also claimed, as he had originally told a uniformed officer at the scene that night, that no one had been arguing about politics or any other subject just before the first shot was fired: “During entire conversation everyone was calm, and no one was arguing or disagreeing.”

As I had done with Miguel, I went in detail over where everyone was supposedly sitting or standing at the time the first bullet was fired. I knew Miguel and Ramon wouldn’t be able to keep their stories straight, which would further underscore their deceitful testimony. And sure enough, they repeatedly contradicted each other. For example, Ramon testified that both of them were seated at the kitchen table when Victor was shot – obviously contradicting Miguel’s claim that he had been standing up in the kitchen. Unlike Miguel, however, he admitted that he had heard what at first he believed to be a firecracker.

By the way, had I used my gun expert at trial, he would have testified that John’s particular .41-caliber Colt model – particularly in the confines of that relatively small kitchen/living room – would have sounded like a cannon going off. He was prepared to go into comparing decibel levels of certain sounds, with the gunshot equivalent to a fire engine siren going off in the home. See: gunsmagazine.com. Again, however, I decided his testimony was not important enough to extend the trial.

As with Miguel, Ramon testified that after Victor went down, he (Ramon) saw John standing across from Susan with his arm fully extended away from his body and pointing the gun directly at her and her son (but never saying anything). John then shot a second time, striking Susan and causing both her and her son to fall on the floor. He then said he saw Miguel immediately get up and rush John. While Miguel was struggling with John, he saw that the gun was still in John’s right hand. He got the gun and ran outside to hide the gun so John could no longer use it. Of course, it wasn’t until I got him on cross that he finally admitted to kicking John in the head “once or twice”. Even then, however, he was unable to explain why there was so much blood on his pants legs. (Sloppy police work resulted in LBPD not testing the blood to determine whose it was – since, conceivably, it could have belonged to Victor or Susan.)

Ramon testified that they had all been watching Obama’s farewell speech when John admitted to having voted for Hillary Clinton. At that point, Ramon claimed that Victor responded to John jokingly, saying, “Get the fuck out of my house.” John didn’t respond and remained quiet most of the time he was there. John remained standing and paced around in the area between the living room and dining table the whole time. All of a sudden, Ramon claimed he heard a “pop” sound and saw Victor drop to the floor in the kitchen near the refrigerator. He then said he heard a second pop sound and saw Susan immediately drop to the floor next to the dining table.

After Miguel rushed and tackled John, Ramon stated that he “went for John’s arms” to disarm him. He said the gun fell to the floor and slid over to an area under the kitchen table. He testified that he heard Miguel yelling at John repeatedly: “Why’d you have to do it?” Again, Ramon minimized the extent of the beating Miguel inflicted on John, but he admitted on cross that he had told Detective Sellers (at around 2:15 am on January 11, 2017 – about four and a half hours after the incident) that “Miguel was struggling on the ground with John and was hitting John, trying to control him.”

Finally, Ramon testified on direct that he went over to the dropped gun, picked it up, and called 9-1-1 from his cell phone before going outside to put the gun in a flowerpot. He said he then picked up Ray and took him to a neighbor’s house across the street until police could arrive.

Detective Sellers

Miguel told Detective Sellers hours after the incident that as he struggled to control John on the ground, he had shouted, “Why’d you have to do it?”, to which John supposedly responded, “I’m a jihad” or a “ya-heed”, which confused Miguel. However, on cross, the detective admitted that LBPD had found no evidence whatsoever that John was a supporter of ISIS or any other terrorist organization, or even that he harbored particularly strong views about politics in general. In other words, the whole “jihad” motive was a “nothing burger”. (Notably, on cross, Ramon admitted that he himself had not heard John say anything that sounded like that, or anything at all, for that matter.)

I caused immeasurable damage to the detective’s credibility when I went carefully over the transcript of John’s interrogation with him. I pointed out and quoted no less than eleven times when John tried in vain to explain that he had only been defending himself, after which each time the detective shut him down.

Both jurors would later tell me that the entire jury had been appalled by the detective’s blatant refusal to hear John’s side of the story. In other words, the entire jury was convinced that once the detective had made up his mind about John’s guilt, he had no interest in hearing anything else that would detract from that belief. In fact, both jurors told me they were shocked that the detective was even allowed to conduct such a one-sided criminal investigation. Welcome to the world of L.A. County law enforcement.

I didn’t consider the detective to be a particularly bright individual so it was easy to run intellectual rings around him during my cross examination. Again, instead of directly answering my questions, he would often turn to face the jury to explain to them how detectives supposedly operate. But they could tell he was simply scrambling to cover up his own incompetence and bias towards John.

John Takes the Stand in His Own Defense

Before John had taken the stand, the jury (as I would, of course, later learn) was still uncertain about exactly what happened that night. They had heard the prosecution’s witnesses testify about John supposedly shooting both Victor and Susan without provocation, but then saw that testimony torn apart on cross. The jury knew that Miguel and Victor were clearly lying to protect their friend – lying about numerous issues as previously discussed – so their individual and collective testimony was rejected. And since Victor had trouble remembering what even happened that night due to his brain injury, his testimony was also unhelpful in filling in the missing gaps of what actually transpired.

But John’s testimony would change all that and finally help everything fall into place for all 12 jurors. Until then, they weren’t sure about why John had felt the need to arm himself that night, or why he even went over to the Garcias’ residence.

As far as John’s demeanor and composure on the stand, including during cross where he was unflappable, I couldn’t have been more pleased. He was soft-spoken, calm, and otherwise came across as extremely credible. DDA Kim would later make a huge deal about John’s confusion in pinpointing the exact date – whether it was two weeks or four weeks before the incident – that Victor had brandished the shotgun at him, but the two jurors would later tell me that, too, was a nothing burger (or as William Shakespeare put it, “Much ado about nothing.” 

Otherwise, it certainly helped that in the almost five years between the incident and the trial, John had never once wavered in his version of events – most importantly, what he told Detective Sellers early the following morning.

But John’s gaunt physical appearance confirmed that he suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis and Crohn’s Disease. I carefully walked him through each and every symptom he suffered from as a result of these debilitating diseases, and I could almost feel the jury’s sympathy from across the courtroom. I also walked John through his childhood and adulthood, family life, his marriage and divorce, work history, etc. – all for the purpose of humanizing and making him relatable to the jury. Up until now, they couldn’t get an accurate read as to what kind of person he was.

Next, John testified in detail and at length about his involvement in the band, as well as his relationship with Victor over the years leading up to the incident. This line of testimony soon turned towards Victor shamelessly taking financial advantage of him. I made sure to have John talk about how, after John began indicating that he wanted to leave the band, Victor began brining around unsavory characters to band practice: “He brought shady looking guys with face tattoos, tough looking guys that looked like thugs or gang members. They wore hoodies and didn’t talk to anyone. Victor acted like they were part of his crew, and he flaunted his connection to them.” Again, these were apparently hardcore members from East Side Longos street gang in Long Beach.

I’ll finish discussing John’s testimony in the next blog article.