A key witness in a 2009 double homicide in north Modesto testified Thursday that he still believes the victims were unarmed even though a detective has since told him one of the men killed was found with a gun.
William Harris was with Christopher Diaz, 20, of Modesto and Mark Ochoa, 19, of Ceres shortly after midnight Aug. 31, 2009, when they were confronted by a group of gunmen. Harris has testified that he and the two other men were unarmed when the shooting occurred outside Diaz's home in the 2600 block of Maxine Drive, north of Floyd Avenue and west of Coffee Road.
While being cross-examined Thursday by defense attorney Michael Platt, Harris testified that he stands by his previous testimony, even though a detective has told him that Ochoa was found with a gun.
Modestans Eric Arguello, 21, and Victor Zapien, 24, and Ceres residents David Ferrel, 32, and Kelly Valle, 28, are on trial, accused of murder and attempted murder. They have been charged with attempted murder of a police officer and participating in a criminal street gang.
Harris has testified that Arguello and Valle were among four men who confronted them outside Diaz's home. He has said that Valle and two masked men brandished guns, and Arguello was not armed.
Platt also questioned Harris about an argument Diaz and Ochoa had with Arguello and Valle outside Diaz's home a few hours before the shooting. Harris has testified they argued because Arguello and Valle showed up drunk and belligerent at Diaz's home.
The argument escalated when Valle made unwanted advances at Diaz's mother, who had walked outside to stop the argument. "(Diaz) said 'What's up, fool.' He was ready to fight," Harris said on the witness stand.
Arguello and Valle left in a pickup, shouting threats that they would return, according to Harris. He said the defendants returned to Diaz's home with the two masked men.
Platt asked Harris about Diaz's behavior when the four men arrived, before they knew they had guns.
"(Diaz) had taken his shirt off. He was ready to fight," Harris testified Thursday.
His testimony ended Thursday afternoon after spending nearly five days on the stand. Prosecutors said Harris is a crucial witness in the case, the only one who could identify those responsible for the deaths of Diaz and Ochoa.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Nancy Ashley initially had ruled against allowing testimony from Harris, who refused to provide his current home address. After the Supreme Court and the appellate court reviewed the case, Ashley reversed herself and allowed him to testify.
The murder trial, which started in mid-May, was stalled for about a month until the issue of Harris testifying was resolved.
Harris fears for his safety after cooperating with authorities and has been accepted into the California Witness Relocation and Assistance Program in exchange for his testimony, according to court documents.
Each time Harris was brought to the downtown Modesto courthouse to testify, he was escorted through a rear entrance by a group of Modesto police investigators. Court bailiffs would clear the hallway until Harris made it into court.
The trial continues today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.