Mar. 13—Attorneys presented closing arguments in the jury trial of a man charged with murder and two counts of attempted murder related to a car-to-car shooting.
Avery Sanchez, 22, has been in custody since May 2019 for his alleged part in a shooting on Highway 70 that killed Alejandro Escobar, 38, and injured one of the other two occupants of the car.
Vivion Wallace, 23, pleaded guilty to murder and two counts of attempted murder and is currently serving 62 years to life in state prison. Juan Barajas was driving the car carrying Wallace and Sanchez and pleaded no contest to being an accessory to murder. He will be sentenced in April.
The prosecution’s theory is that Wallace shot at the victims’ car through the back window and that Sanchez stood up from the front passenger seat through the sunroof and fired at the other car as well.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Shiloh Sorbello began his closing argument by saying the color of a hat on the dashboard of the victims’ car led to the shooting. A blue cap allegedly caught the eye of the occupants of the attacking car, who Sorbello said were members of or had affiliation with the Norteno criminal street gang. The rival Sureno gang is associated with the color blue.
Sorbello said Roberto Melendez, an occupant of the victim’s car looked at the car carrying Sanchez, Wallace and Barajas, but that was taken as “mean mugging” by the assailants.
“Apparently he did not look away quickly enough,” Sorbello said.
Approximately 13 minutes passed between when the occupants first saw each other at a stop light in Marysville to when the shooting occurred just before the Feather River Boulevard exit on Highway 70. Sorbello said that was enough time for premeditation on the part of Sanchez to take place.
He pointed to Barajas’ account of what happened, that he saw Sanchez stand up outside the car and that Sanchez had a gun.
“He has zero reason to make up a story about Sanchez,” Sorbello said.
Sorbello reviewed the evidence collected in the case including 10 shell casings found in a 120 yard span of the highway; the nine bullet holes in the car and six bullets found in the car that were traced back to a .40 caliber Glock handgun. He said Sanchez was in possession of a handgun two days prior that could have fired those bullets.
Sorbello said Sanchez sent Instagram messages to the other suspects after the shooting. In addition, Barajas testified that Wallace and Sanchez “high-fived” upon hearing someone had been hit on the police scanner. Sorbello used both examples as evidence that Sanchez had a relationship with Wallace and Barajas.
Prior to closing arguments, Judge Julia Scrogin read instructions to the jury about what laws applied to the case. Sanchez is charged with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. If the jury finds Sanchez not guilty of first-degree murder they can find him guilty of second-degree murder. The lesser offense of second-degree murder does not include premeditation. In addition, Sanchez does not have to be the perpetrator of the murder to be convicted of murder if the prosecution proved that Sanchez aided or abetted Wallace in the commission of the crime.
Sorbello said he believed there was premeditation and that there was evidence Sanchez aided and abetted.
“The motive doesn’t have to make sense to regular folks,” Sorbello said.
He closed by saying that there are multiple paths for the jury to find Sanchez guilty and none that lead to acquittal.
Defense attorney Roberto Marquez said the mantra of Sorbello’s case was “‘I don’t know.'”
Marquez told the jury of the burden on the prosecution to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt and he said that there was plenty of doubt and not enough evidence presented.
“You’re not here for revenge,” Marquez said. “That is not your job.”
Marquez said several of the prosecution’s witnesses had trouble remembering what happened or refused to answer questions and that meant there was a lack of evidence.
“You need a lot more to convict,” Marquez said.
He said the shots came from one gun, fired by Wallace from the back seat.
“This is not a who done it,” Sanchez said. “We have the killer.”
Barajas testified that Sanchez told him to catch up to the other car while on the highway but Marquez said there was no evidence that meant Sanchez intended to kill the occupants of the car. He said the blue cap by itself wasn’t evidence that Sanchez wanted to or did shoot and kill anyone.
“The capacity to do something doesn’t mean you did it,” Marquez said.
During his closing argument, Sorbello questioned the credibility of the defense’s ballistic expert who said the shots from the attackers’ car could not have come from Sanchez standing through the sunroof. Marquez said he agreed with his witness’ assessment and that his credibility or lack of credibility was not evidence that Sanchez committed the crimes.
The jury began deliberating Friday afternoon and went home without a verdict around 5 p.m. The jury will resume deliberations on Monday at 9 a.m.