Crime

Paso Robles man convicted of murder in fatal shooting

Thomas Yanaga listens to witness testimony Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, during his murder trial.
Thomas Yanaga listens to witness testimony Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, during his murder trial. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A jury convicted a Paso Robles resident of second-degree murder Friday, rejecting his claim that he acted in self-defense when he shot a man inside his home.

Last March, Thomas Nolan Yanaga, 53, shot Marshall Savoy, 32, of Atascadero five times, the prosecution said during the trial.

One of those shots entered Savoy's side and hit his heart, a forensic pathologist testified at trial. Another struck Savoy in the back.

"The shot in the side is when he was turning around," said Sarah Goible, the jury foreperson, outside the courtroom. "And that's the shot that killed him."

As the verdicts were read, members of Savoy's family cheered, then cried and hugged. Outside the courtroom, they thanked members of the jury, many of whom were also in tears. Yanaga's wife left quietly as Savoy's family embraced outside the courtroom.

According to trial testimony, Yanaga and his wife had been arguing in their garage in the late evening March 13 when Savoy, who had been visiting a girlfriend staying at the Yanaga residence, intervened. Yanaga's attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, said Savoy was drunk, angry and threatening, at one point taking his shirt off to challenge Yanaga.

Yanaga told police he went inside the house and grabbed a semi-automatic handgun to protect himself and his family. And when Savoy charged him, he fired. But Deputy District Attorney Charlie Blair said Yanaga had an opportunity to call 911 and chose not to.

"He shot an unarmed man five times with a gun," Blair told jurors during his closing argument. "The defendant wasn't scared — he was mad."

Joyce Yanaga also didn't call 911, Blair said, which suggested the defendant was not in imminent danger.

"It was really hard to justify self-defense at that point," Goible said.

Funke-Bilu argued that Yanaga had asked Savoy to leave, but he refused.

"A husband and a wife have a right to argue in the privacy of their own home," he told jurors earlier this week.

When the jury took its first vote, Thursday afternoon, the vote was not unanimous, Goible said. Then the jury asked to re-view the defendant's interview with police.

Goible said there were too many inconsistencies in Yanaga's story when compared to physical evidence and the testimony of Joyce Yanaga and Ashley Moss, Savoy's girlfriend, who was the prosecution's main eyewitness.

The case was one of two murder cases involving self-defense claims taking part at the same time in San Luis Obispo. In the other, John Danner, 25, claimed he shot his mother's boyfriend after he felt threatened by the boyfriend.

A jury is still deliberating in that trial.

While a homicide committed in self-defense can be justified, jurors must decide if a reasonable person would think it was necessary.

"To say 'kill or be killed' is oversimplified," said Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham, but it's essentially correct. "You have to have both an actual and a reasonable belief that if you don't use deadly force, you're in immediate danger of suffering death or great bodily injury yourself."

Yanaga is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 29.

He is also facing attempted murder charges in Kings County. After he posted bail in the San Luis Obispo County case, prosecutors say, he was involved in a shooting there.

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