A prosecutor on Wednesday told a jury that a defendant disguised himself in a ghostly Halloween mask and shot to death a north Modesto convenience store clerk during a 2007 botched robbery after the victim defended himself with a broom.
Ronnie Javier Cavazos, 29, of Modesto is on trial accused of murder in the death of 29-year-old Randeep Singh. His defense attorney told the jury Cavazos was not there; he was not involved in the crime.
His accused accomplices in the attempted armed robbery, David and Paul Gonzalez, have received plea deals in exchange for their testimony against Cavazos. They testified that Cavazos was the shooter.
Attorneys on Wednesday began giving their closing arguments, which were expected to conclude today. The jury of four women and eight men then will start deliberating.
The attempted robbery occurred about 1:30 a.m. Feb. 16, 2007, at the Quik Stop market and gas station in the 4200 block of Sisk Road, just north of Pelandale Avenue and just south of Salida.
Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan said Singh shook the push broom at the robbers, forcing them out of the store. The prosecutor told the jurors the robbery already had failed, and there was no reason for Cavazos to aim a 10 mm handgun at Singh and shoot him as they left the store.
"This amounts to a thrill killing," Brennan argued, saying Cavazos' actions were intentional. "Premeditated murder, plain and simple."
Martha Carlton-Magaña, Cavazos' defense attorney, argued that her client is innocent. She said there is no physical evidence that shows he committed the crime, only circumstantial evidence that fits the prosecution's theory.
"There is rank speculation," Carlton-Magaña told the jury.
Cavazos also is being prosecuted on charges he carjacked a woman and kidnapped her at gunpoint Feb. 3, about two weeks before the botched robbery. The prosecutor said the woman crouched in the van and pleaded for her life, while Cavazos, wearing a mask and baseball batting gloves, used her automated teller machine card to withdraw $20 from the woman's bank account.
"All this violent drama for $20," Brennan argued.
Nabbed leaving theater
Brennan told the jurors that Cavazos, along with the Gonzalez brothers, searched for someone to rob and found the woman leaving a theater. He said the men trapped her van with two other vehicles before Cavazos brandished a gun and told her to scoot over.
"She had a gun put to her head, she was boxed in from the front and the rear by three men on a mission to rob her," Brennan argued.
He told the jury that the carjackers were wearing masks similar to masks worn by the villain in the slasher-horror movie "Scream." The prosecutor said the masks were used again when the defendant tried to rob the north Modesto convenience store.
Modesto police have said the two masked men could not open the cash register, so they stole nothing. Brennan told the jury it was Cavazos and Paul Gonzalez who entered the store wearing masks. Singh was alone in the store when he was shot.
The prosecutor said the case against Cavazos was built on the testimony from the Gonzalez brothers, who initially were charged with murder. The brothers each pleaded guilty to carjacking and attempted robbery as part of their plea agreement.
David Gonzalez was sentenced to 19 years, eight months in prison. Paul Gonzalez was sentenced to time served while waiting to testify against Cavazos, and he will be released once Cavazos' trial concludes.
Carlton-Magaña challenged the credibility of the Gonzalez brothers, saying their stories didn't match. She said Paul Gonzalez testified that Cavazos planned the crimes including the masks used, but David Gonzalez took the credit for the masks and claimed he was the mastermind.
The defense attorney told the jurors that they can't trust the Gonzalez brothers, who she said committed the crimes with someone else and wrongfully implicated Cavazos to avoid a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Carlton-Magaña argued that there are "gaping holes" in the prosecution's evidence. She said, "Those gaps say innocence."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.