The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found there was insufficient evidence against John Michael Piepoli Jr. to support the jury’s finding of a special circumstance allegation of murder during the commission of a robbery.
The appellate court panel ordered the case against Piepoli to be sent back to the trial court for re-sentencing, but it was not immediately clear what sentence he would now face.
In their 28-page ruling, the justices found that Piepoli “did not plan the criminal enterprise that led to Zane’s death,” had no role in supplying any firearms and was not present at the scene of the attempted robbery or the Jan. 15, 2013, shooting of Zane Goldstein, who died two days later.
“Under the circumstances here, there was insufficient evidence as a matter of law that appellant was a major participant in the robbery,” the justices wrote.
Piepoli repeatedly told a police detective that he thought the plan was merely to scare Goldstein into turning over his marijuana and he wasn’t aware that Goldstein had been shot until he was informed the next morning by police, according to the ruling.
The justices, however, rejected the defense’s contention that Piepoli’s statements to police should have been excluded from his trial.
Three other men — Peter Parra, Kevin Jessie Cabrera and Raymond Frank Conchas — were also convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for their roles in the shooting. Their appeals are still pending.
A fifth man, Ward Lacey IV, was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder.
During Piepoli’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Stefan Mrakich acknowledged that Piepoli was not at the crime scene, but told jurors that he was “equally guilty.”
Piepoli’s trial attorney, William Jacobson, countered that it was “a case that has nothing to do with robbery.”
The defense lawyer told jurors in his closing argument that it was “simply an attempted assassination” stemming from Goldstein’s alleged failure to pay a gang “taxes” for selling marijuana in its territory. He argued that his client was “never part of an agreement to commit a murder” and “never knew what the actual conspiracy was here.”
—City News Service
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