A Paso Robles man acted out of anger, not self-defense, when he shot a man five times during an argument at his home, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday. Furthermore, the prosecutor said, Thomas Nolan Yanaga had boasted the night before the shooting that he had always wondered what it would feel like to kill someone.
“He pulled that trigger not because he needed to, but because he wanted to,” Deputy District Attorney Charlie Blair said during his opening statement.
Yanaga, who is on trial for second-degree murder, has pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense when he shot 32-year-old Marshall Savoy last March. After posting $1 million bail in April, Yanaga, 53, was arrested with two other suspects for an unrelated attempted murder case in Kings County.
His attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, wrote in a June court motion that Yanaga was never identified as being at the scene in that case, which is still pending.
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Funke-Bilu opted to delay his opening statement in the murder trial until the conclusion of the prosecution’s case.
According to reports by the sheriff’s department and the prosecutor’s opening statement, the following occurred in the alleged murder case: Savoy had arrived at Yanaga’s house to visit girlfriend Ashley Moss, 26, who was living on Yanaga’s property.
While Savoy and Moss were in a trailer near Yanaga’s house, they heard Yanaga arguing with his wife. Savoy went to the Yanagas’ garage, where the argument was occurring, to defend the woman. There, an argument ensued between Savoy and Yanaga.
At one point, Savoy took off his shirt, Blair told jurors, and challenged Yanaga to a fistfight.
During the confrontation, Yanaga allegedly left the garage and entered the living area of his home, where he retrieved a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun. Savoy remained in the garage with Yanaga’s wife, Joyce.
When Yanaga returned to the garage, Blair said, he called out, “Hey, Marshall” and shot Savoy five times.
Savoy stumbled out of the garage and collapsed in the driveway, leaving blood on the ground and on a parked Mercedes.
Deputies, who were nearby, arrived within a minute and found Savoy in a fetal position, breathing shallowly, testified Ian McFarland, a deputy sheriff.
Yanaga told the deputies, “I didn’t mean to do it” and, “He charged me.”
But blood spatters found at the crime scene, Blair told the jurors, suggest Savoy turned away from Yanaga, who was about 6 feet away when he fired on Savoy. The evidence will show that Yanaga walked toward Savoy, Blair said.
Savoy was shot in the hand, bicep, sides, sternum and back, Blair said.
Motions filed by the defense and prosecution contend that both the victim and defendant were prone to violence. Funke-Bilu wrote in his motion that Savoy previously had a gun pulled on him during a fight.
“Marshall Savoy was a violent man and acted in conformity with that trait on the night he was killed,” Funke-Bilu wrote.
During his opening, Blair said Yanaga liked to play with guns and was doing so when he told Moss and another witness he’d always wondered what it would be like to kill someone.
Yanaga’s two arrests, according to a prosecution motion, “show a pattern of violent conduct of the defendant, and particularly acts of gun violence.”
Blair did not mention Yanaga’s Kings County arrest during his opening statement.
Much of the prosecution case against Yanaga hinges on physical evidence and the testimony of eyewitness Moss.
Moss, however, is “a troubled young lady,” Blair told the jury, anticipating tough defense questioning when Moss takes the stand.
In addition to having substance abuse problems, Blair said, she once suffered a traumatic brain injury and has mental health issues. During a preliminary hearing in April, she failed to appear in court one day during her testimony. Pretrial motions noted she has white-power tattoos.
Meanwhile, Savoy, who had a 0.16 blood alcohol level at the time of his death, was involved in a drive-by shooting as a juvenile, according to court records.
At times, Blair said, Savoy could be an emotional person.
“Sometimes his emotions got the best of him,” he said.
But, Blair added, the amount of force Yanaga used was unreasonable. Instead of grabbing a gun, he said, Yanaga could have easily grabbed a cellphone from the house and called 911.
But the defendant, he said, was “a powder keg ready to go off.”