A 30-year-old Guatemalan man shot in the face near a Riverside liquor store where his two friends were gunned down at the same time testified Monday that he remembered his assailant asking for drugs or money, but due to his injury, everything else about the alleged gang-related attack was vague.
“I was by myself. I was texting,” Francisco Ramirez Mateo recalled about the night of Oct. 23, 2015. “I was invited there by the other two.”
The 30-year-old witness was referring to fellow Guatemalan nationals Juan Antonio Bartolo, 45, and Domingo Esteban, 26, who were allegedly killed by 42-year-old Antoine Deshawn James and 24-year-old Anthony Lovell Eddington II, while an accomplice watched.
Eddington was killed in a gunfight with law enforcement officers three years ago.
Both James and the alleged accomplice, 28-year-old Abiance Linece Turner, are charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count each of attempted murder and gang activity, with special circumstance allegations of killing for the benefit of a criminal street gang and committing a hate crime resulting in death.
James could face the death penalty if convicted, while Turner could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Mateo testified that about 9 p.m. on Oct. 23, 2015, he met Bartolo and Esteban to purchase alcoholic beverages at a liquor store on Kansas Avenue, just off of University Avenue, in the city’s eastside quarter.
The witness, who spoke through an interpreter and was dressed in an orange jailhouse jumper due to his recent incarceration for multiple DUI-related warrants, acknowledged that by the time of the attack, he was already inebriated.
He told Deputy District Attorney Chris Cook that he met Bartolo and Esteban but ended up standing by himself at the corner of Kansas Avenue and Seventh Street.
Under cross-examination, Mateo said he vaguely remembered the victims walking past him, after which he was approached by an “unknown” black man.
“He asked me for drugs, but I don’t sell drugs,” the witness testified.
Under further questioning, the defense focused on Mateo’s statements to detectives a few days after the attack, in which he alleged the assailant had “told me to give him some money or he kill me.”
The landscaper said he had no recollection of being shot on the right side of his face.
He collapsed unconscious and, minutes after the shooting, was taken to Riverside Community Hospital, where he underwent surgery and spent more than a week recuperating, according to the prosecution.
Bartolo and Esteban were struck by multiple bullets. Bartolo died at the scene, and Esteban lingered on life support for a day before he succumbed to his wounds.
The prosecution alleges the defendants carried out the attack to raise the profile of an all-black gang that has engaged in periodic turf battles with Hispanic gangs in Riverside.
None of the victims were affiliated with a gang, according to authorities.
Security surveillance videotape obtained from a business immediately after the killings captured images of one of the shooters — a black man in his 20s — walking on a sidewalk, moving briskly through the area, armed with a handgun. That and additional evidence amassed over a year’s time culminated in charges being filed against James and Turner.
Both were arrested without incident toward the end of 2016.
On Dec. 21, 2016, U.S. Marshals and Fresno County sheriff’s deputies attempted to serve an arrest warrant on Eddington, who was holed up in a house in the 600 block of College Avenue in Coalinga.
The gang member allegedly emerged from the residence with a handgun and opened fire on the peace officers, who returned fire, killing him on the spot, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department.
Court records show James is an ex-con with prior convictions for being an accessory to a felony, gang activity, being a felon in possession of a firearm and being in possession of contraband in jail. Turner has prior misdemeanor convictions for assault and shoplifting.
Both are being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.
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