Attorney: Was eyewitness in drive-by shooting trial coached?

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comDecember 10, 2012 

The prosecution’s lone eyewitness to a fatal drive-by shooting was told what to say by detectives, an attorney argued Monday.

But, a prosecutor countered, detectives couldn’t have known everything the witness later testified to in court  – and that other evidence proved what he said was truthful and accurate.

As the trial of Armando Yepez wound down, defense attorney Gerald Carrasco attempted to discredit the prosecution’s key witness, Henry Ramos. Ramos told jurors he was in a car with Yepez on Nov. 17, 2011, when Yepez fired on a crowd of teenagers in Oceano, killing 17-year-old Gabriel Salgado.

“It still comes down to the credibility of Mr. Ramos,” said Carrasco, who previously questioned Ramos’ version of the events in his opening statement.

While Ramos initially denied involvement, Carrasco said, detectives suggested they knew he was involved, offering crucial details of the crime. That, Carrasco said, influenced Ramos to take a plea to being an accessory to murder – and influenced his testimony.

“He was told he needed to remember this, told he needed to say this,” or his deal would be revoked, Carrasco said.

Fearful the murder would be pinned on him, Carrasco said, Ramos agreed to testify.

“Do I think Henry Ramos did this? No. ” he said. “Do I think he’s going to be doing four years for something he had no involvement with? Absolutely.”

Yepez told detectives he was in Oceano that day – trying to visit his brother – but that he was not involved in the crime. Because it was dark at the time, none of the surviving teens could see anyone in the car that night, so Ramos is the only person to place Yepez in the vehicle.

But Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen said Ramos’ testimony was supported by evidence, including data collected from cell phone towers placing Yepez near the murder scene a minute after it occurred, text messages Yepez sent to his brother asking about a gun, gun residue found in the car Yepez drove that day and, mostly, Yepez’s own statements made to Ramos in a secretly recorded conversation.

During that conversation, Ramos asked Yepez if he felt bad that he had killed someone, to which Yepez said, “Nah.” Yepez also allegedly said, “I didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody” and, when talking about the shooting, “Dude, that ain’t nothing.”

Had Yepez not killed Salgado, Van Rooyen said, he would have been outraged when Ramos asked him about a murder.

“If the defendant was innocent, he’d be like, ‘What? Get out of here!’”

Noting the conversation never mentioned Salgado by name, Carrasco suggested it could have been about some other incident.

But it was clear, Van Rooyen said, that Yepez was talking about Salgado. And it was clear that Yepez was “taking care of business” when he killed Salgado.

Angered by past confrontations he’d had with Oceano gang members, Yepez – a member of a Los Angeles gang – wanted to send a message to those gang members by killing someone in their territory.

“On that evening, on Nov. 17, the defendant had a chance to send that twisted message,” he said.

Jurors began deliberating Monday afternoon.

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