Capturing the moment, a member of the San Luis Obispo Superior Court audience whispered the words “This is dramatic” during the closing arguments of a murder trial Friday that involved a brazen robbery gone wrong.
The comment came at the culmination of a week of testimony in the trial against 22-year-old Luke Austin Waite of Los Osos, who has been charged with murder through a provocative act, the second case with such abnormal circumstances in recent years.
His future is now in a jury’s hands.
The closing arguments retold much of that night’s bloodshed and focused on whether Waite was inside a Morro Bay apartment on Seaview Avenue during a home invasion robbery when shots rang out on April 8, 2009.
Waite sat next to his attorney, wearing a suit and looking on without showing emotion. He occasionally took notes on a pad. If Waite was inside, then he couldn’t have been the person witnesses said fired the first shots that provoked the self-defense killing of 22-year-old Jason Matthew Graves, who was Waite’s robbery accomplice.
But if he was the person outside, then he was responsible for the death.
Deputy District Attorney Charlie Blair said physical evidence makes it simple — Waite was outside in the carport area.
“This is truly a sad story,” said Blair, citing the defendant’s young age. “I’m not suggesting you have to feel sorry for Graves. He had a part. He put himself in that position. Ultimately, Mr. Waite caused his death.”
Blair said DNA examined from items at the scene clarified the positioning of the two men, who were working in concert to rob the home.
Blair said the shots from outside came as a struggle ensued between the residents and intruders.
Blair said resident Seth Terrazas, who was playing poker with friends inside the home before the break-in, wrestled for control of a gun in Graves’ hand, shooting Graves in the process before Terrazas fired at Waite.
Waite was struck by two bullets in his torso, but survived. Graves died from three gunshot wounds to his leg, back and neck.
But Waite’s defense attorney, Gael Mueller, said a confused account by witnesses presented reasonable doubt that her client provoked the murder.
Mueller admitted that Waite made a robbery attempt and committed a burglary. She said the men went there to take marijuana and possibly money.
But Mueller pointed to testimony from two witnesses, including Terrazas, who believed that Waite was the intruder who came inside the apartment and Graves was the one outside.
Calling the incident “absolute chaos,” Mueller said Graves fired the first shots from outside, which spurred Terrazas to start shooting in self-defense.
“They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jason Graves was in the living room,” Mueller said. “We’re talking about reasonable doubt. That’s enough. There is so much (the prosecution) doesn’t know.”
Both armed men — Graves and Waite — wore ski masks during the attempted robbery and ended up outside the home when the melee was over.
Three additional victims who were in the home on the 2100 block of Seaview Avenue were shot and survived.
Mueller said the prosecution didn’t test certain items in the room that could have clarified who was inside, such as a shoe.
But Blair said the shoe matched the shoe Graves was wearing, arguing he made his way outside as he lost blood.
All of the suspects and the men in the house smoked marijuana that day, according to trial testimony.