A 24-year-old man was directly involved in the fatal shooting of a drug dealer in Placentia in an attack ordered by a prison inmate, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday as the defendant’s attorney said his client was only along for the ride and had little to do with the killing.
Augustine Velazquez, 24, is charged with murder, conspiracy to commit a crime, burglary and attempted robbery, all felonies. He also faces a special circumstance allegation of murder during a robbery.
All the sentencing enhancements for gang activity in the Jan. 19, 2017, killing of 35-year-old Robert Rios were dismissed by Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue because he concluded that an Orange County sheriff’s deputy, who testified during a preliminary hearing as a gang expert, was dishonest about his training regarding booking of evidence.
Donahue’s ruling was fallout from the evidence booking scandal in which multiple deputies were found to have failed to book their evidence at the end of their shift as required by department policy.
The ruling curtailed the case against Velazquez, and in the opening statements of the trial jurors did not hear one mention of co-defendant Johnny Martinez, the reputed Orange County chief of the Mexican Mafia, who was accused of masterminding the attack on Rios while he was behind bars.
Martinez, 45, will go on trial later along with co-defendants Gregory Munoz, 33, Ysrael Cordova, 36, and Ricardo Valenzuela, 41.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Dave Porter told jurors that Munoz, who was also in prison at the time, was coordinating the attack on Rios.
Co-defendant Charles Frederick Coghill, 37, is scheduled to be tried separately and will be a witness for the prosecution in Velazquez’s trial.
Rios was “savagely beaten” when Velazquez, Cordova and Valenzuela showed up his home, Porter said.
Coghill drove the defendants to Rios’ home, Porter said.
Velazquez was shot in the leg during the scrum with Rios, who fought back, Porter said. The defendant’s cohorts “could care less” about him and Munoz told them to dump him by the side of the road, Porter said.
Coghill dropped Velazquez off at his home, and the defendant called a friend to give him a ride to a hospital in San Diego, Porter said.
The doctors alerted San Diego County sheriff’s deputies, who showed up at the hospital where Velazquez was being treated, Porter said.
Velazquez told the deputies a “despicable” lie that an “unidentified male Black carrying a Mack-10 semi-automatic firearm attempted to rob him,” when he was shot, Porter alleged.
Investigators, however, later pieced together the truth and discovered Rios’ blood on Velazquez’s jacket, Porter said.
Rios “was murdered. Velazquez was part of that conspiracy. At the end of this trial I’m going to ask you all to return guilty verdicts,” Porter said.
Defense attorney Rob Harley said the crew went to Rios’ home at 941 Vista Ave. about 11:40 p.m. Rios and another man sold drugs out of the home and set up an “elaborate” surveillance camera system to alert them when police were approaching, Harley said.
The two thought the three men approaching the home “were another group of customers,” Harley said.
“Rios left the bedroom to greet these people who he thought were there to purchase drugs,” Harley said.
Munoz was in the business of pushing drugs from behind bars, Harley said.
Coghill, who is “one of the prosecution’s main witnesses,” was Munoz’s “right-hand man,” Harley said.
“Mr. Munoz needed Mr. Coghill because he was in state prison and needed someone to run his business on the streets,” Harley said.
Coghill “was the boss who recruited Cordova, Valenzuela and” two other women, who were “secretaries,” Harley said.
Velazquez at the time was 20 years old and was only involved because Coghill was a neighbor and was helping him earlier that day in a Long Beach salvage yard to get parts to repair the defendant’s car, which was damaged in a hit and run, Harley said.
Velazquez “number one, was not the shooter and, number two, never intended to kill anybody” when he went along for the drive to Rios’ house, Harley said.
In fact, a highly “intoxicated,” Rios “pounded” Velazquez during the conflict, Harley said.
Narrating a video of the attack, Harley said, Velazquez “never pointed a gun at Rios, never attempted to hit Rios with a gun, never hit Rios with his hands.”
Velazquez was seen attempting to hold Rios “down with his left hand,” Harley said.
“He never did anything to provoke that violent reaction from Rios,” Harley said.
The victim had “snorted” methamphetamine and other drugs “causing this violent sudden outburst” against the defendants, Harley said.
“Mr. Rios continued pounding on Mr. Velazquez until Mr. Rios was shot,” Harley said.
Velazquez wore a cast on his left leg for a month to treat his gunshot wound, Harley said.