My Opening Statement (continued)

The Beating of John at the Hands (and Feet) of Miguel and Ramon

I continued my opening by illustrating the fact that while Miguel Rea was beating John to a pulp, Miguel actually called out to Ramon Chavarria to enlist his help in the thrashing. Ramon, I told the jury, then rushed over and kicked John at the very lease – and likely far more than -- several times in the head. I finished my description of the merciless and bloody attack on John by stating that it was only at the very end of that ordeal that John somehow managed to free his hand to scratch Miguel’s face – because, I emphasized, John truly believed he was about to die. I also emphasized the fact that this was exactly why John had been so terrified that he felt he needed the protection of the ancient Colt because he knew he was physically too weak to defend himself against such a vicious attack.

At that point, I moved closer to the jury box so they could see my disdain for the prosecution’s witnesses (most particularly Miguel and Ramon), stating that the jurors should listen very carefully to their testimony because they were going to drastically downplay the near-death beating they gave John. In other words, I said, they were going to lie.

Trial Tip:

It’s definitely risky to predict to a jury during your opening about how the prosecution’s witnesses are going to testify – obviously, if you’re wrong, your predictions will blow up in your face. Here, however, I was very confident that they weren’t going to change their story – that is, the version of events they gave to police the night of the incident, as well as how they testified at the preliminary hearing. (See People v. Slaughter (1984) 35 Cal.3d 629, 637-638) (describing the purpose and process of a prelim).

So if you feel that strongly about your prediction, then go with it – because the jury will see that everything you said was going to happen during the trial-in-chief did, which in turn will make them predisposed to believing your (and your client’s version) of events over the deputy district attorney and his/her witnesses (or the deputy city attorney, if your case involves a misdemeanor trial in the City of Los Angeles.

Because of the traumatic brain injury he sustained, which resulted in permanent damage to Victor Garcia, and based on his prelim testimony, I knew that he would not be able to testify as to anything that happened after he was shot. That meant the murder charge (California Penal Code section 187) for the killing of Susan Yang Garcia would come down to the combined testimony of Miguel and Ramon against John’s. But I was fairly certain that the two buddies would stick to their same ludicrous story – i.e., that they barely punched John while trying to restrain him – a story that was utterly belied by the gravity and nature of John’s injuries, as well as by the forensic evidence recovered at the scene. I also strongly suspected that DDA Kim would do nothing to jeopardize her case by actually having her witnesses tell the truth.

In all fairness, even if they had testified truthfully so at trial, I would have thoroughly impeached them with the statements they had made to police and with their prelim testimony – i.e., I would attack them with “Are you lying now or were you lying then?” (or words to that effect).

In other words, DDA Kim was damned either way since her witnesses had obviously lied to the police when (barely) questioned by LBPD detectives and police that tragic night. As it turned out, I was right on the money – both Miguel and Ramon would essentially perjure themselves on the stand – that is, until I forced them to admit to the severity, gravity, and duration of their combined attack on John. See Perjury (California Penal Code section 118).

No Evidence of John’s Motive or Intent to Shoot or Kill Anyone

Now that I was done eviscerating the prosecution’s version of events (or at least as told through the People’s three main percipient witnesses – i.e., those individuals who supposedly witnessed the alleged crimes with their own eyes), it was time to attack the primary element required in a murder prosecution – the element of intent (i.e., motive). See CALCRIM No. 520. First or Second Degree Murder With Malice Aforethought (Pen. Code, § 187).

Here, aside from DDA Kim’s ludicrous “jihad” and voting-for-Hillary Clinton angles, I pointed out the glaring lack of an actual motive or intent on John’s part to commit the crimes for which he was now being tried. Again, I told the jury that as they would hear from the prosecution’s witnesses themselves, John had never displayed any aggressive behavior toward any of them or towards anyone else (that they were aware of). “You’ll hear them testify that at all times, he was a calm, nice, peaceful guy who got along with everyone in band, and who didn’t have a racist or mean bone in his entire body.”

I then explained that John had no motive to harm Susan because he barely knew her -- she was never present during band practice in the Garcias’ garage. Moreover, he didn’t even know or expect that she would be there that evening. (Again, the only reason John even went into their home that night was because no one was in the garage – instead, they were partying in the kitchen.) Nor, I said, did John have any reason to want to harm Miguel or Ramon, who had been friends with Victor for over 15 years but otherwise barely knew John outside of the band.

And that’s when I turned the tables and directly placed the blame on Miguel and Ramon for John’s current predicament – they had every reason to lie about John supposedly blasting away at everyone for no apparent reason because they wanted to protect Victor. Specifically, as I told the jury, they saw Victor attack John with a dangerous object – without provocation – so they wanted to protect their buddy and ensure that the guy who shot him in self-defense nevertheless went to prison for life. I added that Miguel and Ramon also wanted to protect Miguel for nearly beating John to death and for Miguel causing Susan’s death (and the near-shooting of Ray) when he, too, attacked John and grabbed his gun hand.

Further, I explained, aside from Miguel’s motives to lie, his testimony should be disregarded because his highly drunken state made him an unreliable witness. For the same reason, I added, Victor’s testimony should be disregarded – i.e., aside from his brain injury (which, but for his unprovoked and deadly attack on John, would not have occurred), he was also extremely drunk. (One thing I should have mentioned to the jury is the fact that LBPD did such a sloppy job investigating the incident that, despite seeing the virtually empty Jack Daniel’s bottle, empty shot glasses, and large tumbler of Jack-and-Coke, they didn’t bother testing the blood alcohol levels of Victor, Miguel, and Ramon.)

Finally, I warned the jurors to watch out for Miguel and Ramon’s lies about their claims that Victor had only been “joking” when he threatened to kill John and when he said that “all White people should be killed” – again, another attempt to protect their good friend. I pointed out that there was no way for John – or any reasonable person in his position, for that matter – to know that Victor was joking when he had made those threats, or when he waved his Mossberg assault shotgun in John’s face, warning him not to leave the band.

John’s Statements to Detective Sellers

I finished up my opening statement by going into Detective Sellers’ tunnel-visioned interrogation of John after the shootings. But first I explained John’s state of mind at the time Sellers came to his bedside at the hospital – John was heavily sedated from pain medication and was in severe pain from cuts, wounds, bruises, and a neck fracture. He was also beyond physically exhausted by the time Sellers arrived at 5:30 am – more than ten hours after the incident.

By this time, I told the jurors, Seller had already spoken to Miguel and Ramon and unreservedly accepted their concocted version of events as the truth. He had his mind made up, he was there to get a confession, and he had no interest whatsoever in getting an explanation of what actually happened or otherwise hearing John’s side of story. This is the very definition of an ignorant and incompetent detective – though, of course, I didn’t dare use those precise words in front of the obviously pro-prosecution judge.

(By the way, the judge herself was an interesting character who wore a Covid mask the entire time that was illustrated to look like the bad guy (“Immortan Joe”) in the 2015 film Mad Max: Fury Road, giving her a bizarre and disturbing visage. And any doubt I may have had before the trial commenced that she was pro-prosecution was erased by the fact that I had heard from reliable sources that she was married to a senior law enforcement officer.)

Finally, I nailed home the fact that – as I said the audio recording itself would confirm – the detective – no less than eleven times – ignored, failed to follow up on, or outright shut down John’s attempts to explain that he had only been defending himself when he shot Victor, and that he had been viciously attacked by Miguel immediately thereafter, which caused the second bullet to fire. Instead, I told them, he only wanted answers that confirmed that John had shot Victor (though at that point John was not yet aware Susan had been shot, or even that he had fired a second bullet). “As far as the detective was concerned,” I said, “he only wanted answers from John that would fit in nicely with a murder prosecution. In other words, this detective couldn’t have cared less about the truth.”

And that was the end of my opening statement – now the trial-in-chief could begin.

The Prosecution’s Direct Examinations and My Cross Examinations

Victor Garcia

As a survivor who was badly and permanently injured by John’s firing of the ancient Colt, it made perfect sense for DDA Kim to put Victor on the stand first. Not surprisingly, though, his recollection of what happened that night was hazy, and certainly could not recall anything that occurred after John had shot him. See:

However, he did deny all the awful things he had done to John – both leading up to the incident, as well as the incident itself, namely:

  1. That he had ever bullied John or made any threatening or racist comments to him;

  2. That he had ever brandished his SWAT-type tactical shotgun to John; and

  3. That he had attacked John that night, much less with a dangerous object.

Again, Victor’s head wound prevented him from recalling much of anything from that night, including whether he had gotten into a political discussion or argument or anything else of that nature (one-sided or not) with John or with anyone else that night.

But during my cross-examination, he admitted that since he had just been shot, he didn’t see John fire the second bullet which struck and killed Susan. Nevertheless, he again denied threatening John, and claimed that John inexplicably shot him without provocation. Again, at no time did he mention that he had attacked John. He simply couldn’t remember.

Because of his head wound and resulting memory loss, all in all Victor presented as an unreliable witness for the prosecution. As a result, I didn’t think he did much damage to our defense. The jury was clearly looking forward to the testimony of witnesses who could recall what happened on the evening of January 10, 2017.

Miguel Rea

As I previously mentioned, I believe the deputy district attorney, DDA Kim, who was prosecuting the case, blundered by failing to have Miguel mention the true extent and severity of John’s beating – again, Miguel only claimed to police and the prosecutor that he had merely “restrained” John. On DDA Kim’s direct, he also seriously downplayed the drinking, claiming he and Victor had only had a “few drinks” – another flub on the prosecutor’s part.

On cross, I got Miguel to admit that Victor had showed off his shotgun, which he also admitted had made him feel very uncomfortable.

Another line of cross-examination that positively blasted Miguel (and, by extension, DDA Kim herself) was his preposterous claim that despite being only a few feet away, neither he nor Ramon actually saw John shoot Victor – again, testifying otherwise would have necessarily implicated Victor in attacking John, and therefore John firing at him in self-defense. The upside of this for the defense meant – as the two jurors would later confirm to me – that Miguel and Ramon came across as highly unreliable witnesses. Coupled with the fact that Victor’s memory of the incident was extremely hazy, this left John as the only person who could clear up the confusion (which he did beautifully, I thought).

However, Miguel blatantly perjured (California Penal Code section 118) himself when he testified that after hearing the first gunshot and seeing Victor on his back, he saw John pivot with his arm fully extended and fire at Susan without provocation or explanation.

On cross, however, I tore his story apart piece by piece, detail by detail. I got him to admit that he and John were struggling with the gun in John’s hand and that perhaps that “might” have caused the gun to fire – a far cry from Miguel’s original testimony on direct.

I also blasted his testimony that he had only struggled with John for the purpose of holding him down until police could be summoned. Specifically, I quickly wore him down to the point where he admitted punching John so many times that he couldn’t remember the actual numbers of blows he inflicted upon John. I even got him to admit that he had been forced to take a breather once or twice because he was so winded from beating John. (The Follow-Up Police Report also confirmed that Miguel “got on top of him and punched him an unknown number of times on the face.”)

In addition, I got Miguel to admit that at one point during the beating, he actually called out to Ramon to have him come over and kick John in the face! But when I asked Miguel if Ramon had kicked John in the face or head more than once, Miguel became extremely cagey.

Best of all, I was able to confront Miguel (and, again, by extension DDA Kim) with an LBPD police report that he had “started ‘whaling’ on him’’, meaning that he had in fact repeatedly punched John while he lay helpless on his back.

As the two jurors would tell me after the trial, neither Miguel nor Ramon had presented as believable, much less trustworthy, percipient witnesses because of the two friends’ almost painful attempts to cover up for themselves, as well as for Victor.

On rebuttal, the prosecutor sought to deflect from the obvious life-threatening beatdown John had taken by making a big deal about a single scratch near Miguel’s eye -- specifically, she argued that this minor injury served as evidence that he and John had essentially been engaged in mutual combat, and that he had been forced to defend himself against John – another big mistake, I thought.

But as John would testify on direct, he admitted to trying to claw Miguel’s eyes as he felt certain he was about to be beaten to death, and because he was too physically weak to otherwise defend himself against the onslaught.

More on Miguel’s trial testimony will be coming up in the next blog article.